Black school districts will take another “F” grade under new standards, despite making improvements

August 16, 2017 in Education

By Othor Cain,

Editor,

mde logo“Our [black] children don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding or overcoming odds, if we continue sending the message that no matter how hard you work, your work just isn’t good enough,” said a superintendent in one of Mississippi’s failing school districts that didn’t want to be identified for fear of an unfair audit by MDE for speaking against the recommended changes.

Tuesday, the State Commission on School Accreditation voted to recommend new accountability standards to the state board of education. The commission said the standards approved in 2016 needed to be “reset” because of ‘technical flaws in the system.” Those flaws officials say show only seven “A” rated districts across the state. If the changes to reset the baseline are approved, the data would then show Mississippi has 14 “A” rated school districts.

The problem doesn’t solely rest on those A rated school districts. When you move to the bottom of the grading scale where most of the “urban” or black school districts fall, those districts, although they made improvements or showed growth, they would be adversely affected if the changes to start over [again] are approved.

“Districts have been operating according to a set of expectations and now in the middle, we’re looking at setting another set of expectations,” Commissioner Ann Jones said via teleconference. “It is my hope that we are given more time to analyze this information.”

Most commission members received the information about the projected changes just a day or two before the meeting. Paula Vanderford, chief of accountability for MDE said that was done by design. “Our goal was to hold the numbers, hold the information so that we could have a clean slate/fresh eyes while looking at preliminary data…everybody wants to see the numbers, we understand that,” Vanderford said.

Based on current rating standards, some of the districts that usually ranked in the “A” percentile didn’t make the grade nor meet the requirements to remain A districts, while many of those failing districts showed significant improvement.

According to data shown Tuesday, only 12 Mississippi School Districts would be ranked as “F” districts as opposed to 19 under the previous year’s ranking. If the new plan is approved, that number jumps to 22  failing districts across the state.

This data indicates that at least seven school districts were able to move out of the “F” category per baseline scores that were set last year.

This is particularly troublesome for districts like Canton Public Schools and Jackson Public Schools where district leaders say they’ve made significant progress towards improvement. “This is tough, moving from 12 to 22, but we can’t make any formal comment until we’ve had a chance to look at the data and see where we will land,” said Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Freddrick Murray. “It’s disheartening.”

The commission decided to cut the districts and schools a little slack. Officials recommended that the schools and districts that would have been rated a “D” based on current standards, but, forced into the “F” ranking based on new guidelines, not face any penalties or sanctions by the state this year.

Changing the standards and ultimately changing the letter grade for districts for the 2016-17 school year is also bothersome for the organization Parent’s Campaign. “The hurdle isn’t being lowered for all school districts. It appears that the hurdle will be raised for those at the lower end of the accountability spectrum,” the group shared in its news release after the meeting.

Ultimately, if this measure is passed, the state will maintain a predetermined number of districts in each rating category: exactly 14 school districts will be rated A, 38 B, 36 C, 34 D and 21 F, regardless of their performance.

The majority of the 19 public-school districts in Mississippi that were rated as failing in 2015-16, and the 12 rated as failing in 2016-17, under the current rankings have majority African-American student populations. This means that seven of those highly populated African-American districts made significant gains.

Carey Wright, Mississippi’s superintendent of education addressed the results and rankings based on changes implemented last year in a press release. “These results represent a new starting point for measuring the progress of schools and districts across the state,” she said. “Superintendents, principals and teachers have all worked diligently to implement higher academic standards and help students achieve better outcomes. Our students’ significant gains on the National Assessment of Educational progress, their rising graduation rate and their achievements in Advanced Placement all show that students are rising to higher expectations.”

Tuesday, however, Wright said in a press release, “If we don’t make this change now, school and district grades this year and in the future will not give a true picture of their performance.” “With the recommended changes, the accountability system accurately portrays performance for 2017 and allows for year-to-year comparability in the future.”

What a difference a year makes.

“Our [black] children don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding or overcoming odds, if we continue sending the message that no matter how hard you work, your work just isn’t good enough,” said a superintendent in one of Mississippi’s failing school districts that didn’t want to be identified for fear of an unfair audit by MDE for speaking against the recommended changes.

Tuesday, the State Commission on School Accreditation voted to recommend new accountability standards to the state board of education. The commission said the standards approved in 2016 needed to be “reset” because of ‘technical flaws in the system.” Those flaws officials say show only seven “A” rated districts across the state. If the changes to reset the baseline are approved, the data would then show Mississippi has 14 “A” rated school districts.

The problem doesn’t solely rest on those A rated school districts. When you move to the bottom of the grading scale where most of the “urban” or black school districts fall, those districts, although they made improvements or showed growth, they would be adversely affected if the changes to start over [again] are approved.

“Districts have been operating according to a set of expectations and now in the middle, we’re looking at setting another set of expectations,” Commissioner Ann Jones said via teleconference. “It is my hope that we are given more time to analyze this information.”

Most commission members received the information about the projected changes just a day or two before the meeting. Paula Vanderford, chief of accountability for MDE said that was done by design. “Our goal was to hold the numbers, hold the information so that we could have a clean slate/fresh eyes while looking at preliminary data…everybody wants to see the numbers, we understand that,” Vanderford said.

Based on current rating standards, some of the districts that usually ranked in the “A” percentile didn’t make the grade nor meet the requirements to remain A districts, while many of those failing districts showed significant improvement.

According to data shown Tuesday, only 12 Mississippi School Districts would be ranked as “F” districts as opposed to 19 under the previous year’s ranking. If the new plan is approved, that number jumps to 22  failing districts across the state.

This data indicates that at least seven school districts were able to move out of the “F” category per baseline scores that were set last year.

This is particularly troublesome for districts like Canton Public Schools and Jackson Public Schools where district leaders say they’ve made significant progress towards improvement. “This is tough, moving from 12 to 22, but we can’t make any formal comment until we’ve had a chance to look at the data and see where we will land,” said Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Freddrick Murray. “It’s disheartening.”

The commission decided to cut the districts and schools a little slack. Officials recommended that the schools and districts that would have been rated a “D” based on current standards, but, forced into the “F” ranking based on new guidelines, not face any penalties or sanctions by the state this year.

Changing the standards and ultimately changing the letter grade for districts for the 2016-17 school year is also bothersome for the organization Parent’s Campaign. “The hurdle isn’t being lowered for all school districts. It appears that the hurdle will be raised for those at the lower end of the accountability spectrum,” the group shared in its news release after the meeting.

Ultimately, if this measure is passed, the state will maintain a predetermined number of districts in each rating category: exactly 14 school districts will be rated A, 38 B, 36 C, 34 D and 21 F, regardless of their performance.

The majority of the 19 public-school districts in Mississippi that were rated as failing in 2015-16, and the 12 rated as failing in 2016-17, under the current rankings have majority African-American student populations. This means that seven of those highly populated African-American districts made significant gains.

Carey Wright, Mississippi’s superintendent of education addressed the results and rankings based on changes implemented last year in a press release. “These results represent a new starting point for measuring the progress of schools and districts across the state,” she said. “Superintendents, principals and teachers have all worked diligently to implement higher academic standards and help students achieve better outcomes. Our students’ significant gains on the National Assessment of Educational progress, their rising graduation rate and their achievements in Advanced Placement all show that students are rising to higher expectations.”

Tuesday, however, Wright said in a press release, “If we don’t make this change now, school and district grades this year and in the future will not give a true picture of their performance.” “With the recommended changes, the accountability system accurately portrays performance for 2017 and allows for year-to-year comparability in the future.”

What a difference a year makes.