Courtesy of the Monroe County Journal:
May 20, 2015
By Alice Ortiz

NETTLETON – The Nettleton Primary School third grade scored 98 percent on the state reading test throughout initial reports, but a retest on Monday boosted the school to 100 percent. By the initial scores released a couple of weeks ago, only four other elementary schools in Northeast Mississippi had higher scores than Nettleton’s 98 percent score.

Nettleton Superintendent of Education Michael Cates said he was very pleased with the results and felt they were definitely going in the right direction.

According to Nettleton Primary School Principal David Tutor, who has been at the school for six years, he implemented Common Core standards in kindergarten and first grade in the 2011-2012 school year, and added second and third grade in the 2012-2013 school year.

“We knew this was coming, and knew we had to be proactive,” Tutor said. “We can’t do as we’ve always done and expect results.”

Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, Nettleton completely changed the way it taught and assessed students. Personnel designed and implemented standard-based grading where students are assessed based on mastery of standards as opposed to traditional subjective numeric grades. All of this information can be found on the school website.

In the 2014-2015 school year, Nettleton purchased STAR 360 through Renaissance to use as a universal screener and progress monitoring tool. Students scoring below the 40 percent on the STAR were identified and pulled three times a week for reading instruction with the reading interventionist, Dawn Harrell.

The students were also invited to attend afterschool tutoring one day a week. Those students were also required to take STAR reading assessments bi-weekly and weekly depending on progress.
Tutor said the school began keeping portfolios on students with examples of their formative and summative assessments. School personnel also developed and began administering common assessments every three weeks and sent them home as progress reports. They began giving weekly fluency assessments and keeping a record of the student’s progress.

Also, in 2014-2015 a computer lab was made a required special class so all students K-3 would learn keyboarding skills and test-taking skills, which would be necessary to perform well on new state assessments.

“It doesn’t matter where the student are when you get them, they will meet your level of expectations,” Tutor said. “If the bar is set low, they will be there. We raised our rigor and level of expectation. The teachers bought into it, the parents bought into it, and the students bought into it.”

Tutor said Nettleton had enough foresight and courage to do what was not traditional.

“The key word is accountability,” he said. “Students love school and the teachers are happy. We flooded the parents with information. There were very few complaints or issues. The parents do as much as they can, if they have the information to do it.”

He told the school board and his teachers in the beginning of the implementation they might look bad for awhile, but it would work. There were 90 students in third grade in the 2014-2015 school year. There were five sections with 18 students in each class.

“I want to give credit to the teachers. Without them, this would not have worked,” said Tutor. “Dawn Harrell, our interventionist, helped design the common assessment. Shawn Wiginton gets a lot of credit for the success, as well as Kelly Blake, Angel Carr, Kristy Cornelius, Karen Windham and Jennifer Jones and our counselor, Virginia Whitaker.”

“When we heard we had gotten a 98 percent rating, it was the best day of my 16 years of teaching,” Harrell said. “Seeing all the hard work paid off. Just seeing the faces of the kids who had struggled. We allowed all the kids to call their parents and tell them they had passed the reading assessment.”

Some of the Nettleton third graders commented on how they felt about the 98 percent score. “I was proud of passing. My mother reads a lot and I like to read,” said Aleecia Denecola. Brilee Dykes said it felt good to be one of the best in Northeast Mississippi.

“We sang ‘Who rocked the gate. We rocked the gate,” said Dykes. Madeline Crayton said, “It was awesome. I love to read now.”

Shawn Wiginton said it was unbelievable.

“I had tears in my eyes, I was so excited. We spent two years preparing for this test. The standard-based report card was totally new to us, and a little scary. We had never seen anything like it.”

Wiginton, who has been teaching for 17 years, said there was pressure now to keep Nettleton Primary where it is now.

“We will work hard to keep the standards high. Two years ago, Mr. Tutor sold this program to us and the school board. He was adamant about it and I had never seen anyone as excited as he was. The parents and students are excited about our high achievement.”