In the first year of the state's new accountability system, the district received a ranking of Academic Watch, although many of its individual schools fared better and it barely missed making the High Performing level.
Carver Elementary was a High Performing School and Lawndale Elementary, Tupelo Middle School and Tupelo High School were all Successful. Milam Elementary was Academic Watch.
Among the factors that hurt Tupelo in its ranking was its failure to make the growth requirements, which measure whether each student showed sufficient progress from a year's worth of instruction.
First-year Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said the district's performance hasn't changed significantly from past years but the new state model judges school much more rigorously.
"The sky hasn't fallen," said Shaver, who has announced that he wants Tupelo schools to be among the best in the world. "We're not where we need to be."
Tupelo's schools were ranked by their student and teacher composition for the 2008-09 year and do not reflect the district's recent reorganization. Only schools with grades four and higher for the 2008-09 year received rankings.
"We need to own the fact that we are accountable to our students and to their parents," said David Meadows, a consultant for the Tupelo Public School District. "We recognize that and do have much work to do, but we will keep our nose to the grindstone and make every effort that we need to make."
The Academic Watch category is the fourth tier of rankings in the state's new system. Despite its name, it does not mean that the school is on probation or watch.
Kristopher Kaase, deputy superintendent for instructional programs and services for the Mississippi Department of Education, said a ranking of Academic Watch means that a school or district is not performing at a level the state board would like to see.
"They are not failing, but they are not in the preferred levels," Kaase said.
In a quirk of the new system, Tupelo actually came close to being a High Performing district, the second highest tier in the system.
The district's Quality Distribution Index of 164 was two points below the score needed for the school to be ranked in the successful category. The district failed to meet its academic growth goal by a razor-thin margin.
Had it made the growth goal, it would have been moved up one level in the rankings.
Had the district done slightly better on both its distribution index and its growth, it would have been High Performing.
"We are disappointed in the ranking and that is unacceptable," said school board President Mike Clayborne. "At the same time, it is important to understand that a 1 percent change in our performance literally would put us in the High Performing category."
Even though the district fell short in student growth, Shaver said the component was an important part of the new system.
"It looks at each individual child," he said, "and if we're not looking at it as individual children, we're not doing our jobs as educators."
Shaver said efforts are already under way to improve the district's score. The district's curriculum audit will help align what is being taught at each school to the state requirements.
The efforts also include increased rigor with a K-12 Advanced Placement curriculum and the use of technology to create more relevant learning environments.
Two districts earned Star rankings, the highest in the new system. Shaver said that as long as he is superintendent, he will not be satisfied if two districts perform better than Tupelo.
Next year's results will be the first ones to measure tests taken under the leadership of Shaver, who emphasizes that he inherited a historically high-performing district.
"Our goal is always to be the highest performing and we owe it to our students and we owe it to our city to do that," Shaver said. "I'm not predicting a dramatic turnaround in one year. But if we can get a steady incremental growth and we can move forward, then we're headed in the right direction.
"I'm just saying that I'm not going to be satisfied until we are the top."
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.