Tupelo gains despite turmoil

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Despite a school year with several outside distractions, the Tupelo Public School District made gains on many of its state tests, according to data released by the Mississippi Department of Education today.
Tupelo High School, the center of much of the past year’s unrest, showed significant gains on its algebra and English II state tests.
“We are extremely pleased,” interim Superintendent David Meadows said of those results. “Even though there might have been turmoil, teachers took seriously the student-teacher relationship, and they protected what happened in the classroom.”
The released scores are the results of the state standardized tests that students took during the 2010-11 school year. Third- to eighth-graders took the Mississippi Curriculum Test, while high school students were given tests in algebra 1, English II, biology and U.S. history.
The results of those tests will be used to determine school rankings under the state accountability model.
It is not clear yet how Tupelo’s scores will affect the district’s current ranking of “Academic Watch,” the fourth of seven tiers in the state’s ranking system. The new rankings will be released sometime in mid-September.
The results of the high school biology test will not be used to determine this year’s rankings because that test is in its first year. Those results have also not yet been publicly released.
Big rise in Algebra
Last year, Tupelo’s most disappointing test was algebra 1, a test on which only 50.8 percent of its students scored proficient or advanced, the two highest scoring categories. Students can score, from lowest to highest, minimal, basic, proficient and advanced on the four tests.
This year, 79.6 percent of Tupelo students scored at least proficient on the test, an increase of 28.8 percentage points. The district also had 85 percent of its students pass that test, compared to 62.1 percent a year earlier.
“A group of teachers at the middle school and the high school worked together across schools to really focus on algebra,” said Deputy Superintendent Diana Ezell.
Those increases came during a year of community unrest about school discipline, protests over the decision to transfer the Tupelo High School principal to a new position and a decision by past superintendent Randy Shaver to get an early release from his contract.
Overall, Tupelo saw improvements in the percentage of students who scored proficient or higher on eight of the 15 tests. That percentage remained virtually identical on another test.
“We realize that even with the areas we improved, we have a lot of work to do,” Meadows said. “We must recommit ourselves to asserting administrators and teachers as front-line educators, and we think we are doing that.”
Besides algebra, the district’s biggest gains came in English II, third-grade math and eighth-grade math. The percentage of students who scored at least proficient on English II rose by 23.7 points to 79.4, more than 22 points above the state average.
The district’s largest declines were in U.S. history, sixth- and seventh-grade language and seventh-grade math.
The percent of students scoring at least proficient in U.S. history fell by 16 points to 47.6, well below the state average of 61 percent.
Seventh-grade language fell by 13.5 percentage points, and seventh-grade math dropped by 12.9 points. Both falls followed double-digit gains on those tests a year ago.
Meadows and Ezell said the district would drill into those scores to determine what caused them.
This summer more than 100 Tupelo teachers gathered to rewrite the district’s curriculum, a project that Meadows believes will greatly improve next year’s scores.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com

Full test scores in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.