JACKSON — State officials say Mississippi’s public schools will have another year to keep the high grades they have been given, even though test scores indicate lower ratings.
In a news release Wednesday, the state Department of Education said that federal guidelines include a “pause” in state grading systems for one year because of the switch to new tests in most states. As long as Mississippi’s application for a continued waiver from the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is approved, the state will get the waiver.
The grades that were assigned in Mississippi last fall were based on the same waiver, where grades only changed if schools improved, because the state was using its old tests even though schools had switched over to teaching material based on the Common Core State Standards.
Officials have warned that they expect scores to drop sharply under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests that Mississippi will give this spring.
“For all states that are implementing transitional assessments, traditional research shows that in the first year of any new assessment, scores do go down,” said Staci Curry, director of accountability for the Mississippi Department of Education.
Local districts are likely to welcome the news that they won’t be evaluated on a test that schools have never before given.
“I think it’s wonderful, based on the uncertainty we were facing,” said Sam Bounds, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents.
Many schools may carry a grade in 2015-2016 based on test scores of students who left after the 2012-2013 school year. But Curry said state law requires the department to assign a letter grade to every school every year.
Mississippi has to seek federal approval to change its state grading system because state law requires a unified state and federal evaluation system. Bounds’ group is supporting House Bill 156. That measure, passed by the House and pending in the Senate, would sever that tie. Then the state could waive new letter grades even as less publicized federal accountability results continued.
“The entire state of Mississippi’s accountability system should not be tied to the federal government,” Bounds said.
The Board of Education adopted the PARCC tests on a one-year emergency contract after a state contract review board ruled that the multistate PARCC consortium improperly chose vendor Pearson PLC without a competitive process. The state is trying to award a new testing contract, although Mississippi officials say Pearson could still be chosen.
Curry said it was possible the state would seek an additional waiver for 2015-2016 if Mississippi chooses another set of tests.
Local superintendents have been pushing for the state to adopt tests written by the ACT organization, and another bill that passed the House would move the state in that direction.
The state’s academic standards could also change again. A bill passed by the Senate would set up a commission to suggest revisions to Common Core, while a House-passed bill would simply rename the standards.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.