Commission on School Accreditation members Heather Westerfield (left) and Harrison County School Superintendent Roy Gill, (right)  discuss accountability standards with Chief Accountability Officer Paula Vanderford (center left) and Erin Meyer, state Attorney General department representative for the Mississippi Department of Education.


The number of both A- and F-rated school districts could increase this year if the State Board of Education adopts a recommendation to change the planned baseline cut scores for the 2016-2017 accountability ratings.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the state Commission on School Accreditation voted 9-1 Tuesday to recommend that the board change the scores. One member abstained.

The vote was based on yet another recommendation by a technical advisory committee made up of Chris Domaleski, the associate director of the Center for Assessment, and other national testing experts.

The score adjustment would change the number of A districts under the current model from seven to 14 and the number of F districts from 12 to 21. Names of the districts whose rankings would change were not released.

The effect of the change on the lower-rated school districts was a hot button issue among commission members and educators in the audience from school districts such as Jackson Public Schools, which is currently rated an F, and D-rated Hazlehurst and Lumberton.

If the board adopts the commission’s recommendation, however, districts rated F under the new scores that would have been rated as a D would not be subject to sanctions from the state.

At several points during the meeting members of the audience expressed their opposition to the move and support of commission members who raised the question of whether it was fair to adjust the target that schools having been working toward this late in the annual assessment process.

Commission member and Harrison County School District Superintendent Roy Gill proposed postponing the implementation of the new cut scores for another year, but no official motion was made.

“You’re making a recommendation to me that I have to live with but I cannot fully understand,” said Gill, the commission member who voted not to change the cut scores.

But Mississippi Department of Education Chief Accountability Officer Paula Vanderford and others repeated that this change is simply a move to make sure the ratings accurately represent school performance.

The change in cut scores involves using the percentile ranks already approved in 2016 as opposed to using the numerical cut scores the state planned to use.

Domaleski said the committee investigated why an increase in overall proficiency ratings on the 2016-2017 state test results was not reflected in the accountability ratings for schools and districts for the same year.

“The increased proficiency rates were out of alignment with the preliminary accountability results in that you would anticipate an increase in growth with an increase in proficiency rates,” Domaleski said.

Domaleski pointed to the difference in state assessments and the models used to compare year-to-year results as the culprit, but said the Mississippi Department of Education “did they best they could during that transitional period to produce credible results.”

Because the state has administered three different tests (Mississippi Curriculum Test, PARCC and the Mississippi Assessment Program) over the past three years, it had to come up with an alternate method of calculating the growth component of the accountability rating system. The method was designed to allow the state to compare year-to-year test results from different tests to calculate how many students moved from one proficiency level to the next.

This is the first year the state has test results from the same test, the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, over a two-year period. Upon analyzing that data, state Executive Director of Student Assessment Walt Drane said, state education officials realized that growth scores from 2015-2016 were artificially inflated and thus impacted the 2016-17 ratings.

Schools and districts are also graded based on areas besides growth, such as student achievement, graduation rate, ACT scores and participation rate.

The State Board of Education on Thursday could vote to accept or reject the commission’s recommendation.

Final district and school-level accountability grades 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.