Neshoba Central Elementary School’s kindergarten test scores have been ranked No. 1 in the state for the third year in a row.

Students are tested in the fall and then again in the spring with the state Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. The difference in the scores of the two tests represents growth for a student. Neshoba Central kindergarten students led the state in growth.

Neshoba Central grew from 540 points in the fall of 2017 to 808 points in the spring of 2019. The state averages of growth showed growth from 502 in the fall of 2017 to 710 in the spring of 2019. 

Principal Tiffany Plott said that test scores are the result of good work by the students, teachers and families. And it all starts with the basics.

“We have a very strong phonemic awareness program,” Plott said. “We realized that our kids needed a stronger foundation. We read and write every day in kindergarten. That develops critical thinking and problem solving skills.”

Neshoba Central Elementary is a big school with 1,450 students in grades K-5 and 170 staff members. Plott said they are determined not have students falling through the cracks.

“I make certain that we know every kid on the campus; where they are beginning; and, where they need be at the end of the year,” Plott said. “We focus on individualizing our instruction, looking at our data, finding out what individual kids need.

“You break that down to 1450 students with 250 per grade and 25 in each classroom. And if everyone will take care of the kids who are entrusted to them, then we can be sure they are getting what they need.”

Teachers have 45 minutes built into their day call FIRE time, or Focused Instruction on Remedial Enrichment. That’s when the teacher can work with students individually but not just the ones who have fallen behind.

“We are really big on targeting our weaknesses,” Plott said. “This is not only for students who are struggling. It also is meant to keep our Level 4 and 5 students at that high level. FIRE time is tailored to those children and their needs.”

Plott said that students who are graded at Level 3 are considered to be on grade level but not proficient. The state expects growth.

“This is the task we are under,” Plott said. “So when you have a group of Level 3 students, you are looking at having to move kids about grade level during the year. That becomes more difficult and presents new challenges.”

And despite the best efforts, it all comes down to test results.

“We try not to make that our main focus every day,” Plott said. “We try to instill that work ethic in our kids and not make testing the center of everything. We want testing to be an important thing because it is a good measure. It lets us know how we are performing based on the rest of the kids in the state.

“Our most important things: We are going to love our kids. We are going to do our best by them. And we are going to teach the standards. If we do that, it can’t help but raise our test scores. That will be the end result,” Plott said.

The school devotes one Wednesday a month to STEM squads. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Different grades are matched up. Fifth grade works with kindergarten, first grade with fourth grade and second grade with third grade. And they do hands on work with science projects.

“Some make rockets. Some make boats. They engage in an activity that incorporates the entire curriculum. And they have to write, read and do critical thinking,” Platt said.

With the different grades working together, friendships are made and a sense of belonging to the community is developed.

“We have parents say that when kids got home and were working on task, they were thinking differently,” Plott said. “They couldn’t wait to come to school next day. By building relationships, kindergarteners have a buddy in fifth grade. It fosters feeling of community.”