Pine Belt students performing well in face of accountability score changes

By HASKEL BURNS,

With accountability letter grades from the 2017-18 school year scheduled to be released later this month, local school officials say students in the area are still continuing to perform at a high rate – and even improving – despite a recent vote by the Mississippi State Board of Education to reset the baseline scores for establishing accountability grades for schools that have a 12th grade.

Pine Belt school superintendents Tess Smith (Lamar County), Dr. Matt Dillon (Petal) and Robert Williams (Hattiesburg) have mixed feelings about the board’s decision.

An email sent from the office of Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education, said the scores for assigning school and district letter grades for 2017-18 were set last year based on 2016-17 student performance data. Because the growth for 2016-17 for schools with a 12th grade was not comparable to growth calculated in 2017-18, the board of education agreed with a recommendation by the Commission on School Accreditation and the Mississippi Department of Education Technical Advisory Committee to reset the baseline scores for earning each letter grade from A through F.

The email states the differences in growth were caused by the use of three different high school assessments over a three-year period – last year’s growth calculations for schools with a 12th grade still included data from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which was administered in 2014-15.

“Mississippi has now had the same high school assessments for three consecutive years, so future growth calculations will no longer include the residual effects of changing assessments,” said Chris Domaleski, associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment and chairman of the TAC.

But Tess Smith, superintendent of the Lamar County School District, said it’s important to note that students in Lamar County and across the state have grown and are performing better than ever.

“That’s evident in the proficiency rates in our state assessments,” she said. “But because the state’s accountability model is so heavily weighted for growth, we will continue to see situations like this inflation of scores whenever there are changes in the assessment, changes in the alignment of standards, and/or changes mandated from the state or federal government.

“The only way to keep situations like this from happening is to shift the accountability model’s weighting towards proficiency.”

Smith said high school students’ growth is calculated using their 8th-grade math and English language arts scores, and in the 2016-17 school year when high school students took the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, their growth was calculated by comparing their 8th-grade math and ELA score from the 2014-15 PARC assessment to their high school MAAP score.

When the PARCC was given in the 2014-15 school year, it was the first time the district’s students had been given that assessment.

“Historically, we have found that when our students take a new assessment, their performance drops,” she said. “Typically this happens because the new assessment increases the rigor.

“So given that, our students across the state did not perform as well on this first-time, more rigorous PARCC assessment. So fast forward two years later, to the 2016-17 school year, and those students are in high school and have had two years of more rigorous instruction and two years of more rigorous assessments.”

Smith said because of that, when those students took their high school assessments, they were better prepared and performed better on those tests.

“In this situation, when you look at students who performed low on the 8th grade assessments and then performed well on the high school assessments, the growth was very large and could be thought of as somewhat over-inflated,” she said. “So that means the 2016-17 accountability scores for high schools were possibly inflated.

“Basically, we as a state were comparing apples (MAAP) to oranges (PARCC).”

The 2017-18 high school accountability score compares students who took MAAP in 8th grade and took it again in high school.

“So these students were prepared for the 8th grade MAAP assessment, and they were prepared for the high school MAAP assessment, and their performance is comparable or similar,” Smith said. “Because they are comparable or similar, the growth was inflated and therefore the overall accountability scores were lower.

“Basically we are now comparing apples to apples.”

Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District, said he understands the board of education’s vote – given the number of transitions school districts have seen over the years – and he is expecting another change next year when new science standards are enacted.

“It’s been kind of par for the course lately,” he said. “It doesn’t really have that big of an impact on us as of right now, because without the adjustment to the scores we were still looking good.

“So it is what it is. They’re having to make some adjustments, and that’s out of our control, so we just roll with it and go from there.”

The TAC and CSA did not recommend making any changes to baseline scores for elementary and middle schools, which were established last year based on MAAP data only.

“I believe the State Board of Education should adjust the cut scores for schools with a 12th grade,” said Robert Williams, superintendent of the Hattiesburg Public School District. “The cohort students were exposed to three different programs over three years.

“However, I am concerned that cut scores for all schools within each district are not being considered. Especially since the high school components play such a major role in the overall accountability model.”