Good News on the Accountability Front

A couple of weeks ago, educators who work in K-1 and K-2 schools gathered at a Mississippi Association of School Administrators conference to discuss the challenges surrounding how lower elementary schools are rated. They shared their frustrations about the current system, which they say often yields:

  • Low teacher morale

  • Strained relationships with feeder schools

  • Unfair distribution of school recognition funds

  • Ineffective feedback on instruction (ratings are based on proficiency and growth in grades three and four)

A number of ways to improve the model for future ratings were discussed, including:

  • Establishing a statewide grade configuration for rating purposes that would assign ratings to a group of grade levels, rather than to specific schools; for example grades pre-k through 5 would be rated as if they were one school, as would grades 6-8 and grades 9-12

  • Assigning K-2 school ratings based on results of assessments that are already required for grades K-2, such as MKAS or STAR (if tweaked for better alignment with state standards)

  • Assigning the district rating to schools that do not have MAAP-tested grades

A tip of the hat to Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) representatives Walt Drane and Alan Burrow who helped facilitate the session. They were clearly sincere in their mission to listen and get feedback to take to the MDE for possible consideration by the Accountability Task Force. Kudos also go to Candace Henderson, principal at Poplarville Lower Elementary School, for organizing and facilitating the presentation.

A similar school ratings challenge exists for attendance centers, schools that include an atypically broad span of grades, such as K-12 or 5-12. The current accountability model calls for these schools to be rated using the same 1,000-point scale as high schools. However, the evidence suggests that this puts attendance centers at a significant disadvantage. High schools do not have any grades that participate in the MAAP, which is administered only to grades 3-8, while attendance centers do. This appears to skew downward fairly significantly the test scores of attendance centers.

Matt Thompson, assistant principal at West Union Attendance Center, developed a telling hypothetical example of how a school’s rating would change, despite having the same point totals in each rating category, based only on its grade configuration. See that here.

It appears that this conundrum could be easily addressed by rating any school that uses a 1,000-point rating scale and has MAAP-tested grades (attendance centers) using the cut scores assigned to school districts rather than the cut scores assigned to high schools – an apples-to-apples comparison, as districts also have MAAP-tested grades and use the 1,000 point scale.

Rating schools and districts is an imprecise science, and those ratings carry significant consequences for teachers and students. We appreciate the MDE’s efforts to make the current accountability model a more accurate representation of student achievement in all schools.

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