Unfair to grade Mississippi schools when the criteria changes midstream (Other views)

The Associated Press

downloadMississippi’s public schools face unintended, unfair and unhelpful outcomes in state accountability rankings if the U.S. Department of Education does not approve the state’s plan to freeze those rankings during the transition to the greater rigor of the Common Core standards.

Public schools don’t know what they must do to achieve an A, B or other ranking on state tests in process statewide this week, making efforts a shot-in-the-dark because the state has not received approval from the federal government for its new accountability model. The Mississippi Legislature required that federal approval in a law it passed in 2013.

In addition, Mississippi’s plan to freeze rankings at current levels until in-school preparation for the tougher Common Core State Standards is completed is in limbo. The state Department of Education had told local school districts that this year’s state tests would not be used to determine a district’s grade unless they improved it; now there is some doubt as to whether federal education officials will go along with that.

This creates an unfair situation for those districts which, acting in good faith based on what they had been told, focused all their attention on Common Core and not on the current state curriculum frameworks. Not having given full attention to what students will be tested on this week, schools and districts can realistically expect to see a decline in rankings if the federal government refuses to allow those rankings to be frozen.

The state doesn’t seek anything like a free ride or even a weakening of standards, just consistency and adequate time to meet the demands of change and heightened expectation.

The constant movement and reshaping of education standards and requirements is powered by good intentions, but inconsistencies and confusion won’t help in reaching long-term goals.

The U.S. Department of Education should allow the rankings earned in 2013 after that year’s testing to be held in place until school systems statewide all have had adequate time to transition to the new Common Core standards.

Complex missions demand precision, and that’s what the accountability process during the transition to Common Core lacks.

The premise is simple: Schools should know going into a school year how they will be evaluated. Schools may not find out until after this school year is over how and whether they’ll be measured. That’s not good process or policy, nor does it even make sense.

Nothing’s to be gained in requiring the use of test scores based on assumptions that changed in mid-stream.

(From the Northeast Mississippi Journal)