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Federal grants to bolster state testing preparation

MONTICELLO – Two Lawrence County schools each recently receiveda $65,000 grant to help them target areas where improvement isneeded on state curriculum tests.

Topeka-Tilton Attendance Center and Monticello Elementary weretwo of 16 schools in the state to receive the federal ComprehensiveSchool Reform grants, which are renewable every three years.

“It’s money to help the school with reform – efforts to make theschool more proficient in reading, language arts and math,” saidSharon Dungan, federal programs and testing coordinator for theLawrence County School District.

Each district can apply for up two CSR grants per year, shesaid. Two other districts also received a pair of grants.

The grant will be used to add Topeka and Monticello Elementaryto the Lightspan program. Under the program, students rotatethrough classroom centers consisting of three to five Playstationgame consoles using instructional games directly correlated totheir daily lessons.

In addition, students are allowed to check out the gamingconsoles to continue their “games” at home.

“We’re hoping this will appeal to our students, especially inour low-income families who may not be able to affordPlaystations,” Dungan said.

The games specifically address instruction in reading, languagearts and math, areas that are tested annually by the state. Everydistrict is required to show improvement in those areas to meetstate and federal mandates.

In Mississippi Curriculum Test results released earlier thisyear, Monticello Elementary results in grades 2-4 showed at least87 percent above the proficient level in reading, 78 percent aboveproficient in language arts and 90 percent above proficient inmath.

At Topeka, the percentage of students in grades 2-4 testingabove proficient was at least 88 percent in reading, 80 percent inlanguage arts and 92 percent in math.

Both schools are relatively strong in the tested areas, Dungansaid, but as the students begin to move into the higher proficiencybrackets it becomes more difficult for them to show improvement.She said she believes the Lightspan program will help them gainmore interest in the skills and improve the scores.

“The first year will target the grade that had the lowest scoreson the state testing,” she said. “We’ll add a grade each year ofthe program.”

The program has proven successful at Rod Paige Middle School,which is in its third year of the program, Dungan said.

“We believe it’s one of the many factors that has made them alevel-four school,” she said. “It is one of the tools we use totarget what the children need to excel.”

Although the district has been awarded the grant, it is stillawaiting the money to purchase the materials, she said. She expectsthe program to be in place at both schools by Thanksgiving.