When the new school ratings come out in Mississippi in the fall, many communities will probably be surprised and disappointed

When the new school ratings come out in Mississippi in the fall, many communities will probably be surprised and disappointed.
It’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of top tier schools – Level 5 under the old rating system – will drop a notch or two. In fact, there may not be many schools in either of the two highest categories under the new system, Star School and High Performing.
But it’s important that parents and communities realize that their schools haven’t suddenly taken a nosedive. Student performance could be just as good or even a little better than in the past and still a school could fall out of the elite group or otherwise rate lower than before.
That’s for a very good reason: Standards will be much tougher. It will be much harder to achieve elite status, as Daily Journal staff writer Michaela Morris details in a story on today’s front page.
Let’s face it: Top tier in Mississippi has not meant much in recent years. Twenty-five percent of all schools attained Level 5. Only a handful fell below Level 3, designated as successful. Not only was this out of kilter for comparisons among Mississippi schools, it provided a misleading picture of how our schools stacked up nationally.
Mississippi students aren’t anywhere near where they need to be in national comparisons. State standards were far lower than they should have been. That made success or high achievement here not equate to the same in other states with more rigorous standards.
Credit state Superintendent Hank Bounds and the state Board of Education for raising the bar. The result will be a more honest assessment of where students and schools are. Higher expectations are the first necessary step toward higher achievement.
The new rating system takes into account not only test scores but how much academic growth they represent from year to year. Those tests are harder than they used to be, and the curriculum on which they’re based is more demanding. Additionally, dropout rates will become an important factor in school ratings.
Schools will get one of seven ratings under the new system: Star school; high performing; successful; academic watch; low performing; at risk of failing; and failing.
Where schools fall may be a source of contention and controversy for a while, and surely there will be ways to tweak and improve the system. But this much is certain: Continuing with “grade inflation” in school ratings would have only been fooling ourselves and ill-serving our children.
The new system will be more accurate and honest, and in the long run that’s good news for students, schools and communities that want to get better.

Lloyd Gray

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