EDITORIAL: Full accountability

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s long journey toward developing schools fully competitive with their peers nationwide yields its first measured results Monday with announcement of districtwide and individual school “labels” and numerical scores based on nationally comparable testing standards.
The results of testing administered during the 2008-2009 school year will encourage some and challenge other Mississippians supportive of public education.
The testing standards differ markedly from earlier programs because all students were tested for comparison with their peers measured equivalently across the U.S.
Some school districts whose rankings were high under Mississippi’s former five-tier system won’t fare as well with the new tests. Some schools will have better “labels” because of the overall mix of results. Camparing oold and new is comparing apples and oranges.
Of course, results that are lower than expected should concern everyone because the goals that must be reached are clearly defined for the years ahead, and the state is better equipped to help schools succeed, including recovery from failure.
Tom Burnham, the newly appointed state superintendent of education, and interim superintendent John Jordan, both believe the rigorous new standards will effectively challenge every district in ways that will lead to better learning.
The new tests, in effect, don’t allow a status quo. Progress measured every year – assessing what students should know after every year of schooling – shifts goals from numbers to knowledge.
Official expectations of progress – or knowledge growth – carefully calculated, will weigh heavily in measuring each school and district. The progress of every student matters because what each adds individually to their knowledge base counts toward the comprehensive ranking of their school.
The new system initially will raise the minimum standards measuring performance – and excellence – each year for four years, so there can be no standing pat. No system or school will sustain a good ranking without becoming better. No system or school will advance toward excellence without meeting and/or exceeding the expectations of progress.
The system is unforgiving – a no excuses approach to accountability.
Some systems may have strong individual school performance, but if the overall measure of progress and other factors like high school graduation rates are inadequate, what’s called the “label” will indicate improvement needed.
At the core of the new system is a goal of having every child who leaves third grade reading at grade level. Reading remains fundamental, and that emphasis will be reinforced by Burnham’s plan for a statewide in-school literacy initiative.
In addition, Burnham has named former Mississippi Superintendent of Education Richard Boyd to head a select task force – which Boyd will choose – to review work so far on a statewide Recovery District for failing schools and school conservatorship. That task force will recommend specific implementation measures to the state board of education, which governs all public schools.
Boyd has strong experience, having served as conservator of the Cleveland, Ohio, city schools, which were failing. Boyd returned to Mississippi for retirement.
Mississippi’s schools face many challenges, including financial cuts driven by revenue declines.
We believe the new accountability system, with strong community support, can help overcome even that impediment as schools make progress toward successfully educating students in a national context.