State education leadership’s constant flip-flop doesn’t promote trust in scores

Published 5:26 pm Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Mississippi Department of Education and the State Board of Education continue to flip-flop on public education accountability scores, making it difficult for those in the business of educating our children to know just where they stand.

MDE released the latest accountability scores to the media Monday with an agreement they could not be published until noon Thursday. Our story on how the Vicksburg Warren School District performed based upon the MDE formula was finished and ready to publish, but an email from MDE 45 minutes before the release time stated the State Board of Education decided to postpone “until October consideration of approval of letter grades for the 2017-18 school year for schools and districts based on Mississippi’s A-F accountability system.”

Rather than publish “unofficial” accountability data about VWSD, we decided to delay our story until October when the SBE is scheduled to meet again. The SBE cited discontent with the proposed ratings from school district officials as the reason for the postponement.

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According to the Associated Press, more districts would fall in the ratings than improve, even though test scores and high school graduation rates improved statewide. That’s because last year’s ratings were inflated by artificially high test-growth numbers caused by computational difficulties in translating results between different standardized tests. Although the number of A-rated districts would increase and B-rated would fall by only one, the number of F-rated districts would increase from nine to 23 under the unofficial results. Chief Accountability Officer Paula Vanderford said there would have been 21 failing districts last year if schools hadn’t been allowed to pick an easier standard from the year before.

State officials realized this year that high schools would end up with dismal ratings, and the board voted in August to reset high school grading levels. However, because such a reset mandates a certain number of districts get each grade, that provoked protests that the board was automatically failing some districts.

“We don’t like the target moving either,” Vandeford said in a committee meeting Thursday morning, although she said it was necessary.

She’s not the only one. VWSD continues to show improvement, but that does not reflect with the MDE model that many on the state level seem to have a problem agreeing upon.

“When the goal line is moved after the game has been played, it is impossible to know the real score,” VWSD Superintendent Chad Shealy told us.

Here’s what we know for certain: The VWSD administration, faculty and staff are student focused in a way rarely witnessed and are working to make certain our students are prepared for bright futures.