The State Board of Education on Thursday approved a new set of accountability rating cut scores that require any school or district to perform in the 90th percentile or above to receive an A rating.

The board’s unanimous vote came after a task force of administrators proposed setting the cutoff for an A score at 85 percent. State Department of Education officials disagreed with that lower score.

Schools and school districts receive a grade ranging from A through F based on student achievement, test-score growth, graduation rate and participation rate.

But the state’s new accountability model places a major emphasis on student growth, particularly for the lowest-achieving students. The new model also incorporates “acceleration,” or the number of AP and dual credit options schools give, into the grades.

State education officials originally proposed setting the cut off at 93 percent but came to a compromise at 90 percent. At 90 percent, only 14 school districts will be given an A rating, compared to the 22 that would have been awarded an A under the task force’s recommended score of 85.

Some board members expressed concerns about implementing a bar that is too high after the changes in state testing over the last three years. The current school year is the first one in three years where the same assessment Mississippi Assessment Program test will be used in consecutive years.

“Until we settle in and (can compare) MAP (Mississippi Assessment Program) to MAP, don’t let us be hurt in the process,” said board member Buddy Bailey, a Rankin County School District administrator.

Fellow board member Johnny Franklin echoed Bailey’s concerns.

“I have deep empathy for the fact that we have asked our education communities to shift tests three years in a row,” Franklin said, garnering an “amen” from several educators attending the meeting.

Ronnie McGehee, superintendent of the A-rated Madison County School District, said he was disappointed by the board’s decision and what he sees as the model’s overemphasis on student growth.

“If you look at those points, 400 (out of a total of 700) of the elementary and middle schools’ ratings are based just on (student) growth,” McGehee said. “You have a roller coaster ride because one year you will have growth that will take you on an ascending value, and then once you reach that and have another set of students, you may fall.”

But board member John Kelly said he believed the board needed to continue the trend of raising the standards for students.

“If we raise the expectations, they’ll get to where we want them to be,” Kelly said. “I don’t ever want to seem like I’m dismissing anything our practitioners are thinking and doing … but I have to go back to the time that we set our strategic plan several years ago.”

“It’s about challenging kids, making kids better kids.”

Under the model approved by the board, schools and districts scoring in the 63rd percentile will receive a B; in the 38th percentile a C; and 14th percentile an F.

The accountability ratings for the 2015-2016 school year will be released in October.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.