Accountability system does not do our schools justice

By JOSEPH BROWN,

Did Mississippi jump the gun with its new accountability system?

The Mississippi Department of Education released its district and school ratings, which was the first set of ratings since 2013 for which no waiver was given and the first to “count” under the new accountability model.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this accountability model… the old model placed a heavy emphasis on proficiency and rewarded schools and districts with many students who scored in the proficient or advanced categories on state test. However, the new model moved the emphasis to academic growth and rewards schools that have students forward in achievement, even if they have not met the “proficient” benchmark.

This emphasis moved a few schools with low proficiency rates into the A or B categories, due to increased academic improvement. However, some schools with significantly higher proficiency rates received lower ratings, a scenario that can occur in schools with many students who were already scoring “advanced,” which was part of the cause for the Kosciusko School District C grade.

The most insane portion of this model, and the main reason that I believe MDE should have waited another year before full implementation, is that the model to determine academic growth was used by comparing scores on entirely different tests. Mississippi schools administered the PARCC test in 2015 and the MAP test in 2016, which are completely different tests graded on a different model.

Another one of the major flaws is shown in schools that don’t have a third grade, like Kosciusko Lower Elementary. The MAP test is only administered to students in grades 3-12, so how can this score accurately portray the accountability of schools that do not house those grades? Students in grades K-2 at Lower take the MKAS test and have consistently graded among the top in the state. Therefore, if this model is accurate, how would it be possible for students to test among the best in the state in K-2 and fall so far back in the third through fifth grades? Lower Elementary is graded from back mapping for proficiency and growth, which calculates third grade and fourth grade students who attended a full academic year in the first grade and then enrolled for a full academic year in the third grade.

As community members, we need to take a step back, because this assessment as a whole does not show a true representation of our districts. It will not be until next year that we will even be close to a fair representation of student growth with the average coming from the same test.

An accountability system that rewards growth sounds good in theory, but it needs to be more of a mixture of growth and students that consistently stay at a proficient level.

I am all for setting a high bar for Mississippi, because it is the only way that we can improve. However, this model is not the right representation of our school districts.

Joseph Brown is the editor and publisher of The Star-Herald. He can be reached at jbrown@starherald.net.