Growth a key factor in school rankings

By CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal

One thing was clear in the state’s recently released school rankings. Good test scores are not the only key to success.
In its second year, the state’s accountability model labels Mississippi’s schools and districts in seven tiers, ranging from Failing to Star. The rankings are based upon student scores on state standardized tests, student growth on those tests and high school graduation or completion rates.
The growth component plays an important role.
“A growth model is important because we get to measure ourselves from year to year,” said Oxford Superintendent Kim Stasny. “The focus of the school district should be where you come from year to year.”
Each school and district is given a Quality of Distribution Index, or QDI, which ranges from 0 to 300 and is based upon student test scores.
Schools and districts are then placed in one of the seven tiers based upon their QDI score and whether or not they met the state’s growth target.
If growth isn’t met, the QDI required to reach each level is higher. For instance, schools that meet growth need a QDI of 133 to 165 to be ranked Successful, while those that don’t meet growth must score between 165 and 199.
As a result, many schools with higher QDIs received a worse ranking than those with lower QDIs.
The Tupelo Public School District was ranked Academic Watch, the fourth level in the model, but had a higher QDI than 28 districts that were ranked Successful, the third level. For the second consecutive year, the district did not meet its growth target.
Greenwood had a QDI of 133, or 26 points lower than Tupelo, but was ranked Successful.
Increasing a QDI score doesn’t guarantee that a school will met its growth target. Instead, the growth target is based upon a formula that looks at every student test taker within the school or district.
Test data from previous years is used to set an expected score for every student who takes the test. When those students take the test, the formula looks at how much they score above or below their individual target. Those positive or negative deviations are tallied to determine whether the school or district met its growth target.
Essentially, it is looking at whether students are doing a year’s worth of learning in a given year.
However, some schools improved their QDI but still failed to meet growth. A primary example was that Amory High School improved its QDI by 27 points, but did not meet its growth target. Had the school’s 197 QDI been three points higher and had it met its growth target, it would have been a Star school. Instead, it was ranked Successful, the same rank it had in 2009, when its QDI was 170.
One reason for this is the way the state measures growth for high schools, Amory Superintendent Gearl Loden said.
All students in third to eighth grade take state tests in language arts and math. When the state determines growth targets in those grades, it uses math scores to predict math growth targets and language scores to predict language targets, Loden said.
In high school, students take four subject area tests: Biology, English II, Algebra and U.S. History. When the state sets growth targets for each of these four tests, it uses a formula that combines a students’ scores on math and language tests from eighth grade, Loden said. That means eighth-grade language arts scores are used to predict a growth target for Algebra.
Loden said he’d also like to see the state release to districts and to parents which students met their growth targets and which didn’t. Instead, he said, he only received the news about whether or not his district or its schools met the target as a whole.
Loden, whose High Performing district did meet its growth target, said he does favor a model that places so much emphasis on student growth.
“The growth model has the potential to be great in the long run,” Loden said.
One district that was negatively impacted by not meeting its growth target was Chickasaw County, which dropped two levels even though its QDI only fell by six points.
“The fact that we didn’t make growth is what dropped us,” said Chickasaw County Superintendent Kathy Young Austin, whose district went from Successful to At Risk of Failing.
Booneville, Clay County, Itawamba County, Monroe County, Nettleton and Oxford school districts each had all of their schools meeting growth targets. None of those districts were ranked lower than Successful.
The Lee County School District, which was also ranked Successful, had nine of its 11 schools meet growth targets.
“I think growth is the most important thing here,” said Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott. “It shows our teachers are not satisfied, and they’re moving students from minimal to basic and from basic to proficient and from proficient to advanced.”
The state tests score students either basic, minimal, proficient or advanced.
“You have to look at the data,” Scott continued. “You have to look at individual students and what can you do to move those students from one level to the next. It is so important.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.