PINE BELT (WDAM) - The Mississippi State Board of Education approved a grading system for schools and districts that allows only the top 10 percent of scorers in the state to receive A rankings.
The Mississippi Department of Education's new accountability model places more emphasis on district growth than proficiency, so school districts with many high performing students, like Lamar County School District and Petal School District, could see their scores drop because they have less room to grow.
"It hurts your upper level districts," Petal Superintendent Matt Dillon said. "Look at our proficiency levels. I think they speak for themselves. Very excited about that, proud of that, but I am concerned about the model itself and how it's heavily weighted with growth versus the proficiency."
Lamar County Schools Superintendent Tess Smith shares Dillon's concerns.
"I anticipate that we'll see a drop," Smith said. "Kids typically hover around those cut scores, so you take a kid that fluctuates. He may be proficient this year and advanced the next then proficient, kind of the back and forth. Well, when he drops from advanced to proficient, we won't get credit for him. Only when he moves from proficient back up to advanced will we get a credit for him again. So I think we're going to see some issues with that and that growth model. I just have some real concerns about that. Our goal, of course, is to work with our lowest students and show growth for every single student, but for those kids that are advanced, stay advanced or do the back and forth that I mentioned, we're not going to get near as much credit for them."
Dillon said, "It's like you're teaching to the middle. You're worrying about the middle and not worrying about the upper and the lower, and actually, I feel like, I know it hurts us. I have the data to prove that it hurts us. You have these other districts that have lower proficiencies than us, but they could grow monumental over one year. I have proficient kids in the bottom 25 (percent) of the model. That's something I'm going to continue to have conversations (about), and make sure we provide the data and show the things that we're seeing from the district level at the state level."
Under the new board approved rankings, schools or districts scoring in the 90th percentile or higher will receive A grades, and the bottom 13 percent of schools or districts will be ranked as failing.
Lamar County and Petal school districts were two of just 19 districts in the state to receive an A ranking for the 2014-2105 school year, the most recent state performance ratings. The 2014-2015 results end the state's current testing scale, which was created in 2013. The next set of results, which are scheduled to be released in October, will combine the Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
"One good thing about it, this is a benchmark year," Smith said. "Our teachers and kids have had three tests in the past three years, so I'm thankful at least, give us the numbers. Give us the figures to work with, so that our teachers can then move our kids forward. We can start working on that growth model, and get the kinks worked out of that."
Dillon said, "I don't think it's fair for us to measure PARCC to Questar or to MAP because it's two different tests. We try to look at patterns and different things like that, and we found that the Questar is a little bit more rigorous. The MAP test is more rigorous than the PARCC, and in addition to that, the accountability piece is more rigorous. It's kind of a double thing we're having to look at as far that. We're digging through the data right now. We're getting a little bit deeper. We're working with administration. Administration will be soon working with our teachers now that we have the data on what patterns we see, some areas we want to brag on and say 'great job, lets keep it up,' but also some areas we might see that we can improve. That's kind of our mind set right now."
Smith said, "I'm trying to be prepared for anything. Will there be some disappointment related to that? Yes, of course. I have some concerns with that (the higher accountability rankings), but I also what they're trying to do. The idea in Mississippi is for us to move forward, for us to show growth as a state, to show that we are educating these students and doing the best job that we can for the children of the state. So I can understand the board wanting to bump that up a little bit, set the bar at that level because, like I said, with it being a benchmark year, then that give us all a goal to shoot for. After this year, we all know what the target is, and we can try to hit it."