New school and district rankings to be released

A new era in Mississippi education begins this week.
On Monday, the state will release rankings that, for the first time, show how the state’s schools compare to national standards.
Under the previous ranking system, schools were judged only by their performance against other schools in the state.
“It is going to be a total re-acclimation to what success looks like,” incoming state Superintendent Tom Burnham said.
Work on the new model has been ongoing for several years by the Accountability Task Force, the Commission on School Accreditation and the state board of education. The key criteria will be student achievement and student growth from year to year – both based on test scores – and for high schools and districts, the completion rate.

Tougher curriculum
The key to measuring students against national standards was implementing a curriculum that met national benchmarks.
In setting that curriculum, the state used the recommendations of several national organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
With the new curriculum in place, Mississippi’s third- to eighth-grade students took the Mississippi CurriculumTest, second edition, for the first time in the spring of 2008.
The more rigorous MCT-2 uses the new curriculum and measures higher-level thinking. Scores on the MCT-2 and the high school Subject Area tests were largely used in determining schools’ rankings.
Students not only need to score well on the test, they must show growth from year to year.
“One of the strengths of the new system is that it emphasizes that students of all levels must have success,” said Kristopher Kaase, Mississippi Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Programs and Services.
Schools can’t focus only on high-performing students or on bringing up the scores of their lowest performers. All students must sufficiently gain from one year of instruction.
The new rankings likely will bring sticker shock for some schools or districts.
Because of the increased rigor and the adjustments schools must make to the new system, rankings likely will be much lower than they were under the old model.
Previously, schools were ranked Level 1 to Level 5 based on how they compared to state averages, and most schools scored near the top in the final years.
In the final year of that system, 25 percent of the state’s schools earned the highest ranking and 50 percent were in the top two rankings.
That won’t be the case Monday.
“The old system was not truly measuring to a standard that is on a national basis,” interim state Superintendent John Jordan said.
The need for a new system, he said, became evident when students scoring well on Mississippi assessment tests struggled on national tests.
The rankings in the new model bear no correlation to the levels in the old model, and it would be a mistake to compare them.
Under the new model, schools will be ranked Star, High Performing, Successful, Academic Watch, Low Performing, At Risk of Failing or Failing.
Being successful in no way correlates to a Level 3 school district, Jordan said, adding that several districts or schools that were previously Level 5 will be ranked successful or lower in the new ratings.
“Just because Successful is below High Performing and below Star-school status doesn’t mean that the school or the school district has done poorly,” Jordan said. “They are a successful school district on a national average.”
The rankings will be phased-in over four years; each year the scores needed to reach each level will be higher than they were for the previous year.
Once the rankings are fully implemented, high performing and star schools will be scoring above the national average.
“In order to be at our highest level, those schools or districts have to be among the best in the nation,” Kaase said.
Rankings will be given to any school that had a fourth-grade or higher for both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years and to all 152 of the state’s districts. The exception will be high schools that don’t have a freshman class, which will not receive a ranking this year but will get one next year.
The school’s ranking is based on scores in multiple categories. The first is the Quality Distribution Index, which measures how students scored on their MCT-2 or Subject Area tests. The QDI is a weighted count of how many students scored basic, proficient or advanced on those tests.

Determining growth
Schools and districts are also measured by how much their students learn from one year to the next. Based upon results from previous years’ tests, each student is assigned a target score that he or she should reach on the state test to demonstrate one year of growth.
If the student reaches that score, he or she has met growth. If the student falls short, growth was not met. The amount of points by which each student exceeds or misses growth are tallied to determine whether or not schools have met growth.
The combination of a school’s QDI and whether or not its students have met growth determines that school’s ranking.
High schools and districts also are judged by their graduation rate or by their high school completion index – a weighted formula that also takes into account students who receive GEDs or occupational diplomas, among other things.
The growth will be an important category in the new system. Schools and districts that have met growth will be able to slide up a level in the ranking. Those that meet growth will have a better ranking than some schools or districts that had a higher QDI.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal