Miss. Schools Show Improvement, But Scores May Not Be Accurate
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An official assessment of Mississippi's public schools shows vast improvement across the state. But the ratings may not actually reflect how schools did during the 2014-2015 school year.

19 districts officially received an A, the state's top score. That's according to data released by the state department of education Thursday. 43 other districts got a B, 54-C, 30-D and zero districts received a failing grade.

However, many of those scores are thanks to a waiver that let all districts choose between the score they earned in 2015 or a higher score they received in the previous two years.

Mississippi Department of Education's Chief of Research and Development J-P Beaudoin says the waiver was put in place to hold schools and districts harmless as they transition from old standards and tests to Common Core.

”The majority of the overall score is based on two very different assessments. Those two assessments are so significantly different that it creates a score that is not comparable this year amongst schools or districts.”

Without the waiver, many school districts would have seen a significant drop in scores. In fact, only two districts would have gotten the top rank, Lamar County and Petal.

Inversely, districts like Clinton, Webster, Union and Rankin Counties all saw their unofficial scores fall from an A to C.

Sandi Beason is a spokeswoman for the Clinton School District. She says the scores are not representative of how well districts are currently doing.

“This data is older. It’s from the 2014 school year. What you see when you see this rating doesn’t necessarily who we are today because we’ve had two years to provide professional development to train our teachers and incorporate this curriculum.”

And test scores may not be the only reason for the drop in grades. Two years ago, the Mississippi Board of Education approved new standards for school and district accountability scores. Student proficiency in math, English, science and history, as well as graduation and participation rates are all measured. However, education officials put increased emphasis for districts to show growth in student performance. In other words, schools do much better when they can show students moved from one proficiency level to the next.

Beason says the new accountability standards only hurt historically high performing districts like hers.

“When you’re already an A district, when you’re already a very high performing district, you don’t have as much room for growth. In the new rating system, with that being more heavily weighted, it does hurt. We were at the top. So that was a contributing factor.

And what will happen when the next set of accountability scores are released without the waiver?

Grant Callen with Empower Mississippi -- a conservative education policy group -- says it may not look good.

“Right now we see a lot of schools and districts that are inflated, and come October when the ratings fall off, it’s going to be a cold dose of reality as these grades fall back more with where their performance actually is.”

So why release the scores if you can't compare them to a previous year, they artificially inflate how well schools are doing and you can't actually measure how well a school is currently doing?

Superintendent of Education Carey Wright says it's simple.

“As part of our receiving the federal waiver, the federal government required us to report both grades with and without the waiver. Their point was that it needed to be very transparent for parents.”

The accountability scores for the 2015-2016 school year will likely be released this fall. However, it will likely take until the following year to properly evaluate how Mississippi schools are performing.