By Chris Kieffer
MARIETTA – A small school in Prentiss County has some of the best math state test scores in Mississippi.
The staff of Marietta Elementary School credits its success to a cohesive collaboration among teachers of all grade levels at the kindergarten- to eighth-grade school.
“These teachers work together,” said Principal Cathy Trimble. “We are a small school, and it makes it very easy to do that.”
All third- to eighth-graders in the 283-student school took state tests in language arts and math last spring, as did their peers across Mississippi. On those exams, students are graded, from lowest to highest, minimal, basic, proficient and advanced. The goal of schools is for all students to be proficient, yet reaching that mark is very rare.
But Marietta did have all of its third- and fourth-graders score proficient or better in math, which was the best in the state. It had 95.6 percent of seventh-graders reach that mark in math (best in the state), 95 percent of fifth-graders (eighth best) and 92.3 percent of eighth-graders (11th best).
Trimble said the school does not put special emphasis on math, noting that its language arts and science scores also were very high. It received an “A” grade for its scores for the second consecutive year, and its 217 Quality of Distribution Index – which is based on all test scores – was among the best in the region and the state.
The school’s math teachers said one advantage of having grades K-8 in one location is that they can ask those from other grade levels for help. For instance, they may ask one from a lower grade about strategies for helping a struggling student or talk to one in an older grades about how to better prepare students for that class. Sometimes, there are even school-wide meetings focused on math instruction and techniques used at different grade levels.
“You are able to go directly to that teacher and talk to them,” said first-grade teacher Sharon Long “If we were on different campuses, it would be really hard and time consuming to find a teacher (in a different grade level). It is really easy to go down a hall and find someone or see them on break or during lunch.”
Added fifth-grade teacher Tamri Barnes: “We are talking every day.”
Laura Moore, who teaches second grade, said students also benefit by seeing watching the older students. As she tries to instill the importance of justifying answers and getting her pupils to show their work, she’ll take them down the hall and show them that such is how the “big kids” do it.
Fourth-grade teacher Jessica Brown often devises songs and dances to help her students remember different math concepts. Sixth- to eighth-grade teacher Matthew Pharr brings in real-world examples, using newspaper grocery advertisements to talk about price rates, for instance.
“We try to make it fun,” Brown said.
Rhonda Green introduced a new math computer program last year, IXL Math, in her seventh- and eighth-grade classes that is now used school wide. Green, who now works in the school district’s vocational school, said the program customizes problems to each student’s level.
Most of the teachers also use interactive projectors to display pictures and work problems with students. Third-grade teacher Judy Holley still uses a chalkboard, however, saying it proves that good teaching is possible without modern technology.
Also important, Holley said, are high expectations.
“You challenge them at the beginning of the year, tell them what you expect and what previous students have done and they can do it,” she said.