By Jerel Wade
This is the first of a two-part series examining the Mississippi Department of Education’s decision to change the state accountability guidelines. Part 2 will appear on Thursday.
I knew it was going to happen. I’m not surprised in the least. But, the reality that, once again, public schools are getting the rug pulled out from under them doesn’t set well with me.
In August, the Mississippi Department of Education sent out a press release declaring its intent to ask the state Board of Education to “establish a new baseline for assigning school and district letter grades for the 2016-2017 school year.” Maybe someone forgot to tell MDE, but the ’16-’17 school year ended in May. The game has been played, the scores have been reported and the rules are being changed after the fact.
Schools were assured by Dr. Carey Wright, the highest-paid state superintendent in America, that we would know exactly how many points each student would need to show growth, yet these numbers are being arbitrarily changed months after students have taken the tests. Once again, educators feel lied to.
The MDE press release states that the “new baseline is needed to correct artificially high growth rates included in the 2015-2016 accountability grades.” If the problem happened two years ago, why not go back and correct those?
The 2015-16 accountability grades were calculated by comparing the current MAAP test to that year’s PARCC test. I never understood how accountability grades could be given when comparing two different tests. It’s an apples-and-oranges comparison.
Schools knew that the PARCC test essentially didn’t count for accountability for that year, but knew it would be compared to MAAP the next year. In an attempt to game the system, some schools put little effort into doing well on PARCC, thereby intentionally deflating their scores so that a greater comparison would be made the following year.
The “artificially high growth rates” mentioned in the press release were due to intentionally deflated scores being compared to the first year of the MAAP assessment. However, some schools adhered to the spirit of the assessment system and worked hard to prepare students for PARCC and MAAP, showing less growth than those who worked the system to their advantage.
Now, we finally have an apples-to-apples comparison and the powers-that-be see that as a problem. Dr. Wright stated that this change will give a “true picture of their performance.”
I don’t understand how changing the scoring rules after the game is played will give a “true picture of their performance.” What does this true picture look like? Is it possible that a school that once was low can make the changes necessary to show improvements? Does there always have to be a set number of “A” schools and a set number of “F” schools?
Wright goes on to say, “The MDE needed two years of results from the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) to conduct an analysis of the data and to establish a stable baseline.”
Didn’t she lead her agency in developing a baseline that compared two different tests? Didn’t she hire organizations to review the process in moving from PARCC to MAAP? Has anyone heard her mention needing two years of MAAP data for a “stable baseline?”
This is the first time I have heard this from anyone at MDE, though many, if not most, educators knew this to be a simple fact.
The roots of the problem
Here is where the roots of the problem become a little more apparent. The news release from MDE states that after the 2015-2016 accountability scores were sent out, some districts began to raise concern that “their growth rates were abnormally high and could not be sustained over subsequent years.” These districts understood that their growth from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 was based on intentionally deflated scores on PARCC.
They were shining stars for a year, but knew that staying on top would be difficult.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Many of these districts deserved to be recognized as top performers. They are some of the best public schools in the state. They have a higher than average tax base, socio-economic status and educational attainment of parents. They are set up for success from the start. But, once MDE sets the rules, all schools, regardless of their makeup, should play by the same rules and expect them to be constant.
Coming Thursday, Part 2: What were the unintended consequences?
Jerel Wade is an educator and small business owner from Jones County.