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Ryan Kuykendall, who is the DeSoto County Schools Director of Accountability and Research, has reviewed the Mississippi Department of Education accountability grades report expected to be approved Sept. 19 by the state Board of Education. Kuykendall will present his findings at the district Board of Education meeting to be held that same day.

Mississippi school districts have been waiting anxiously for Sept. 19 and the announcement that is expected to become official by the state Board of Education today.

This is the day that, pending state approval, the letter grades for each school and school district in the state are made official to reflect their students’ achievement in last year’s state accountability tests.

The DeSoto County School District (DCS) has learned that the state’s largest public school system will again retain the “A” grade the district has earned for now the past four years.

“This is a total team effort,” said DCS Supt. Cory Uselton. “I am so proud of our students, teachers, administrators, and staff. We are very fortunate to have tremendous support from our parents and the entire DeSoto County community.”

DCS is one of only nine districts in Mississippi that has been an “A” district the past four years, dating back to the 2015-16 school year.

“It’s technically been seven years in a row,” pointed out DCS Director of Accountability and Research Ryan Kuykendall. “The reason we mention the four-year mark is because that is when the test changed and the state went to the test we have now, which is MAAP (Mississippi Academic Assessment Program).”

Of 145 school districts that were tested, 31 achieved an “A” rating, which is 13 more from the previous year.

A news release from the state Department of Education, two days ahead of the expected Sept. 19 release date, stated that 73.5 percent of schools and about 70 percent of districts would be rated at a “C” or higher.

Individual schools in DCS continued to score high, led this year by Hernando as the second-highest ranked high school in Mississippi, just two points below Ocean Springs High School at number one for traditional high schools.

Center Hill High School ranked number five among traditional high schools.

Lewisburg, traditionally one of the top high schools, was 14th in the rankings for high schools.

DeSoto Central was eight points short of the final “A” grade and finished as a “B” graded high school. DeSoto Central was joined in the “B” category by Lake Cormorant, Southaven and Olive Branch.

Among middle to elementary schools in DeSoto County, Lewisburg Middle is the top-ranked traditional middle school in Mississippi, followed by Hernando Middle School at number two. Scoring two points lower than Lewisburg Middle was Pleasant Hill Elementary as the number-one elementary school in DeSoto County.

School officials were most happy that the test results showed improvement in getting students ready for college and/or for a career. The district set a record for the number of ACT 30-plus scores among last year’s senior class at 148.

District leaders were also pleased with what is termed “acceleration,” meaning students who are getting college credit with dual credit or Advanced Placement courses.

“We also have students obtaining a national certification for an industry with Career Tech,” said Kuykendall. “We are happy to see our work in this area show such improvement.”

Sixth and seventh-grade math scores remained the strongest scores among DCS schools.

However, the test scores also showed a drop of 8.4 points in ELA (English Language Arts) Low Performing Growth, where the statewide average was a drop of 5.56 points.

Kuykendall explained that score doesn’t mean youngsters may necessarily be that far behind where they should be.

“We now have almost 30 percent of our district ELA low-performing students performing at grade level,” Kuykendall said. “This group is the hardest to push up to the next level once they get to this level from a lower level. This is a major focus for us.”

According to Kuykendall, each teacher will be soon receiving a spreadsheet showing all data points so they can shape instruction for their students.

Of concern, however, is where Horn Lake High School and Intermediate School finished, as both were given a “D” grade. Other schools that were graded at a “D” level were Southaven Elementary, Horn Lake Elementary and Shadow Oaks Elementary schools.

“There’s a lot of work that is going into those two (Horn Lake) schools,” Kuykendall said. “They’re focus schools, meaning they are going through extra attention and extra data analysis.”

Kuykendall added the Horn Lake Intermediate School result also impacts Shadow Oaks and Horn Lake Elementary’s “D” grade, “because those schools don’t test. To be honest, 80-90 percent of their letter grade comes from Horn Lake Intermediate and how they perform. We’ve got to do some work there and help them improve.”

“This test data helps us to look for ways that we can help the individual student,” added Uselton. “We are always looking for ways to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all of our learners.”

Kuykendall is expected to review the findings with the district Board of Education during its meeting Sept. 19 at 3 p.m. in the Central Services office in Hernando.

The complete state report on accountability test scores may be found at the state Department of Education website, msrc.mdek12.org.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.