New school ratings won’t compare to old

TUPELO – When Mississippi’s new state school accountability ratings are released Monday, it would be a mistake to compare the results to the state’s previous system, education leaders say.
“It is a major shift in how we will hold our schools accountable from the previous plan that we’ve been under,” John Jordan, the interim state superintendent of education, said Monday in an interview with the Daily Journal editorial board.
“The old accountability plan that we had measured Mississippi kids against other Mississippi kids. … We began a process of measuring children in Mississippi to other children on a national average.”
The new system has been in the works for years. The state’s curriculum guidelines were reworked to reflect national standards, and in the spring of 2007, the state’s students took the Mississippi Curriculum Test, second edition, for the first time.
The more rigorous MCT-2 uses the new curriculum and measures higher level thinking.
The new ratings will designate schools and districts as star, high performing, successful, academic watch, low performing, at risk of failing or failing.
Those rankings do not correlate to the old system, which rated schools from Level 5 (highest) to Level 1 (lowest).
In fact, Jordan said, schools in the successful category – the third in the rankings – are to be commended. The rankings are devised to match national norms.
By the time rankings are fully phased-in in four years, schools ranked high performing and successful will be meeting or exceeding the national average.
“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.”
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 in the new ratings.
Students in third- to eighth-grade take the MCT-2 test, while high school students take Subject Area tests for algebra, English II, biology, U.S. history and writing. The ratings are based on test scores, students’ year-to-year academic gains and graduation or completion rate.
The rankings for Tupelo elementary schools will be muddied by the district’s recent reorganization. Those schools will be ranked based on where students were for the 2008-09 school year and thus don’t reflect this year’s school compositions.
For the first year of the new ratings, Jordan tempered expectations about where good schools might end up.
“Let’s be candid here, we have a long way to go,” Jordan said. “At first there will be very few star schools and star districts. … Then over the course of continual improvement, down the road we will see more schools move toward the star school category.”

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal