Board: Make ACT part of rankings

8Y2Q_djournal_education_school_bus_buses_stockBy Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – As part of the new accountability model being developed for public schools, the Mississippi Board of Education apparently will recommend that the state pay for each student to take the ACT.

The ACT “is a measure of college and career readiness,” said board member Richard Morrison of Brandon, and eventually should be incorporated into the state’s new accountability model proposed by a task force that includes educational leaders and others involved in public schools.

Morrison estimated it would cost the state $1.6 million annually to pay for the testing.

House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, who along with his counterpart in the Senate, Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, attended most of the work of the task force, said it makes sense for the state to pay to ensure that all students take the ACT.

“What Senator Tollison and I heard over and over from educators is that the ACT is the only measure of career and college readiness, yet it was not part of the accountability model,” Moore said.

The ACT is one of two college entrance exams administered nationwide. Mississippi traditionally is at the top or near the top in the highest percentage of its students taking the ACT.

Mike Kent, who serves as a deputy state superintendent and previously headed the Madison County School District, said in a few instances, local school districts paid for the ACT testing, but in most cases, students paid for their own testing.

Because the school districts do not pay for the testing, it is difficult for the information to be gathered by the state in a manner to make it part of an accountability model.

Plus, Moore said students traditionally take the test at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, often at unfamiliar locations.

“We think it will help results if the schools can administer the tests during the week instead of at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning after a Friday night football or basketball game,” Moore said.

A confluence of events led to work on a new accountability system. Last year, because of various issues, the state Board of Education opted to remove graduation rates from the accountability model. The board created a task force to look at the issues surrounding using graduation rates in the accountability model, such as whether a school should receive credit when a student graduates in five years as opposed to the traditional four.

At about the same time, Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders were looking at education changes incorporated in Florida by former Gov. Jeb Bush, such as converting to an A,B,C, D, F, method to rank schools instead of the system used in Mississippi that spanned from Star schools to failing schools, with several layers in between.

In addition, various groups complained that the current Mississippi system was confusing, in part, because the ranking of the schools was based on a prediction of the progress a student was supposed to make.

Through work of the state Board of Education and the Legislature, the task formed to study issues surrounding graduation rates morphed into a panel looking at developing a new accountability system. The task force recently completed its work and last week gave the state Board of Education a summary of the plan.

Under the new model, the schools will be ranked based on the actual student performance with an added emphasis placed on the achievement gains of the bottom 25 percent. And the model, as proposed by the task force, also will use four-year graduation rates to develop school rankings.

Kent said what the task force developed is “the Florida framework with Mississippi plumbing and wiring.”

Interim state Superintendent Lynn House said she is excited about the new model because of the transparent method of developing it that allowed various groups, such as local superintendents, teachers and others, to be involved in the process.

“No other accountability model has been as transparent as this one,” said state Board Chair Wayne Gann of Corinth. “I think it is thorough, and I think it makes sense.”

The final approval of the accountability model still has a ways to go. It probably will be October at the earliest before final approval is given by the state board.

And it will not be enacted in the schools until the 2014-15 school year, meaning schools will not receive grades under the new model until fall 2016.

The enactment will coincide with the state beginning to use the Common Core State Standards, which are national standards developed by the nation’s governors and state school chiefs detailing what students should learn at each grade level.

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