HOULKA – Chickasaw County School District test scores held steady, but principals and administrators see a need for improvement at all grade levels.
The Mississippi Department of Education released school test scores recently from state accountability exams given during the 2012-13 school year and the Chickasaw County School District has taken that data and targeted several areas for emphasis.
While Houlka students in certain grade levels did well in science and math, state testing has once again shown a deficiency in language skills.
“We have found a lot of our students have weak vocabulary skills and need higher reading comprehension,” said Chickasaw County Superintendent, Dr. Betsy Collums. “Today’s tests require a student to take what is written and analyze it. These are not the tests their parents took where you go back, find a word and that is your answer.”
The data on grades tested, specific subject scores and dropout/graduation rankings and Chickasaw County school comparisons to the state average can be found on Page 8A of the Sept. 11, Chickasaw Journal.
Houlka High School Principal Jerry Seago and Houlka Elementary School Principal Emily Snellings said the need to strengthen language arts skills appears to be universal across the district. Collums said there appears to be a dire need to improve those scores at the middle grade level.
“We are not really sure why a particular grade scored so poorly,” said Collums. “This is a more distressed area and one we are going to give special attention to. We do expect them to pull out of this this year.”
Seago said it could be as simple as a bad testing day. Seago, who is in his first year as principal, said teachers may have focused on federal Common Core curriculum to the detriment of state MCT2 (Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition) standards.
Snellings said strong science scores at the middle grades and average math scores are an indicator students can and are learning.
Collums said the district is implementing Larry Bell’s “Closing the Achievement Gap” and teaching students Bell’s “12 Words Found on Every Test.” Houlka teachers joined with Houston teachers at the beginning of the year for a seminar hosted by Bell.
Bell stressed all children can learn in spite of social-economic challenges. Bell’s techniques also work well with both MCT2 testing goals and federal Common Core mandates that must be phased in by 2015.
“We are changing our program for practice tests,” said Collums. “We are also looking at each child individually to see what they need.”
Seago said he felt students have not mastered the endurance needed to excel on the reading and writing portion of language tests.
“Those tests are long,” said Seago. “If you have problems with vocabulary and are faced with reading a lot that you don’t understand, sometimes you just give up.”
Both Seago and Snellings said that mindset must change and teachers will be pressed to make sure students perform.
Collums said language scores may reflect a cultural need to speak correctly and read more. Both Seago and Snellings agreed.
“I encourage parents to read to their younger children every night and to make sure their older children read something every night,” said Seago. “I also urge parents, especially the parents of younger students, to make sure their kids are at school every day.”
Seago pointed out kids don’t learn if they are not in class. Collums said while Houlka attendance numbers are solid, it is a smaller district and absenteeism does have an impact on average daily attendance which affects both state and federal funding.
Seago said he is also stressing teachers be in the classroom and prepared every day.
“Yes, your children do get sick and there are circumstances where teachers have to miss a day,” said Seago. “But the best substitute in Chickasaw County will never be able to do for that class what that classroom teacher can do.”
Chickasaw County Schools saw an improved drop-out rate this year, but still struggles with only a 67.9 percent graduation rate.
“Every December we have students who decide to get a job and not come back to school after the holiday break,” said Collums. “We had that happen with two students last year and it almost happened with a third. They needed one credit to graduate and just stopped coming.”
Collums said students can also struggle with the SATP (Subject Area Testing Program) tests that all seniors are required to pass to graduate from High School.
“Again we are a small district and when just two or three students don’t graduate it has a bigger impact on our scores,” said Collums. “On several of our state tests we had students who, if they had just answered another question or two, they would have advanced a category. That is how deep we went into the details of these scores.”
Collums said Chickasaw County teachers have a history of watching students in their class and trying to give them that little bit of extra help.
“We’ve got a great staff that works as a team to teach our students,” said Collums. “We realize we have our work cut out for us.
“We have told our teachers they need to be here, be knowledgeable of curriculum and keep our students on task,” she added. “We are striving to have everyone at proficient or above.”
Students at Houlka High School who took the ACT (American College Test) scored well and on average are eligible for admission to any college in the state.
The ACT is taken by college bound seniors and some juniors and scores are used as an indication of how well-prepared a student is for college. The ACT is a set of curriculum-based tests in English, math, reading and science.
Chickasaw County student ACT scores compared to state averages and subject area were mailed to the district Aug. 21.
SUBJECT: Chickasaw – State
English: 18.6 – 18.8
Math: 17.8 – 18.3
Reading: 18.9 – 19.1
Science: 18.2 – 18.8
Composite: 18.6 – 18.9
Houlka High School saw 30 students tested and marked improvement over previous year scores.
Chickasaw County had a composite score of 16.4 in 2012, 16.2 in 2011 and 15 in 2010.