Mississippi to change the way it grades schools

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

The ranking Mississippi schools and districts receive this fall could stick for three years.
That’s because the state is switching to new more in-depth objectives for its classrooms to greater emphasize critical-thinking skills. By freezing its school rankings, the Mississippi Department of Education hopes schools can better prepare for those Common Core State Standards.
“We want to encourage the districts to move forward with full implementation of the Common Core, but our current assessment and the Common Core are not aligned,” said Paula Vanderford, education bureau manager for accreditation and accountability at the MDE.
Many schools have tried to begin teaching the new standards, which will be tested for the first time during the 2014-15 school year. However, they’ve also been accountable for state tests on Mississippi’s current frameworks, meaning they’ve had to juggle two different sets of standards.
Results on those state tests are used to determine a school’s and a district’s letter grade.
“Districts have a fear of moving into full implementation of Common Core because the assessments will be used in the accountability system,” Vanderford said. “We thought if we were able to not assign a performance classification over the next couple of years, that would release some of that fear, and districts would move toward full implementation of Common Core.”
Students still will take state tests under the old standards next school year and their test scores will be released to the public. But those results will have no impact on schools’ and districts’ letter-grade rankings, unless they improve.
Rankings also will be frozen in 2014-15, the first year of tests on the Common Core standards. That’s because the state will need two years of data under the new test before it can give rankings.
When schools get their A through F grade this fall, it will be based on tests students took during the current school year. They’ll also be judged by graduation rates, which will be combined with test scores. That means schools with lower graduation rates can compensate with higher test scores and vice versa.

Graduation rates were not used in last fall’s rankings and were used differently in past years.
When schools get their next grade during the fall of 2016, it will be based on a completely different formula.
Elementary schools will be ranked based on the percentage of students who are proficient in reading, math and science and on the percentage who meet growth in reading and math. Growth of students in the bottom 25 percent will be given extra weight.
High schools will be judged on those factors, as well as on U.S. history proficiency, four-year graduation rates, ACT scores and how many students enroll in and do well in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit courses.
Growth no longer will be based on a formula that predicts how each student should score.
Instead, students would be able to meet growth in three ways. Tests rank students, in order, either minimal, basic, proficient or advanced.
Those who move up one level will meet growth, as will those who maintain their proficient or advanced score. So too will those who move from low minimal to high minimal or low basic to high basic.
“It will be much more simple to explain and for all stakeholders to understand,” Vanderford said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com