By JEFF AMY
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi's state Board of Education on Thursday approved almost all of the A-to-F ratings for public schools and districts that it delayed last month, but not before some board members expressed some more heartburn about continuing complaints from superintendents and teachers regarding elements of the system.
The board voted to approve ratings for all but the Corinth school district and four schools that deal with special populations. Corinth district officials have said the department reneged on a deal to develop a special grading system to measure achievement on an alternate curriculum the district uses, but state officials say they have to give all schools a grade under federal law. Using the same reasoning, the district graded the Mississippi School for the Blind, Mississippi School for the Deaf, and schools in Harrison County and the Pascagoula-Gautier school districts that serve only special education students. All four of those got failing marks.
The board is likely to consider the remaining ratings in November after it gets more information about whether it's legally required to rate those schools. The schools could appeal their ratings after that. Corinth already tried to sue the state, but a judge refused to get involved.
The state also unveiled a new report card website that officials tout as providing more data and being easier to use.
A state Department of Education task force is supposed to continue looking into Mississippi's rating system in the coming months after some local school officials voiced strong discontent with the system. Some members of the board, led by member Johnny Franklin of Bolton, proposed a different task force with more board representatives. Although Department of Education officials emphasized the current task force is made up of teachers and administrators, Franklin said the effort needed "fresh eyes."
"There's a perception that people are not being heard," said board member Buddy Bailey, a Rankin County administrator.
A majority of the board rejected that move.
"You are poking the people that are responsible for this process in the eye," said board member John Kelly of Gulfport.
However, Chief Accountability Officer Paula Vanderford said the department may put a Board of Education member back on the existing task force. In addition to the overall task force, a separate group is looking at complaints that the current rating system is biased against attendance centers - rural schools that educate grades K-12 in one place, as well as high schools that include grades 7-12.
The frequent changes to the grading system have been caused by a number of factors, including the state administering three different standardized tests in three years. During a work session on Wednesday, state Superintendent Carey Wright said more change is coming. That's in part because the federal government is mandating that the state's grading system separately factor in the performance of students learning English. A proposal tested this year mainly worked to bring down school grades, but Wright says Mississippi is likely to reconsider. How to grade the performance of English learners is particularly problematic because many Mississippi schools report no or very few students learning English, meaning only a subset of schools could be penalized for poor performance.
Wright also said the state may return to giving a one-year grace period every time it introduces a new test, with new science and U.S. history tests coming.