Nathan Oakley of the Mississippi Department of Education presents Mississippi Succeeds, the state’s new plan detailing how it will comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, to the State Board of Education last June.

The state’s education accountability model could be in for another upheaval following feedback from the U.S. Department of Education on the state’s plan to meet new federal education requirements.

All states were required to submit a plan outlining how they will meet the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Mississippi’s plan, called Mississippi Succeeds, focuses on improving education outcomes in testing, graduation rates, access to quality early learning opportunities and other areas.

But federal education officials are taking issue with the fact that Mississippi’s plan did not include a numerical value for test scores and growth data for the state’s English Language Learners in the 2017-2018 accountability ratings for schools.

As a result, districts will be graded on their English Language Learner population in the 2017-2018 accountability ratings, Nathan Oakley, executive director of the Elementary Education and Reading staff, told state Board of Education members Thursday.

Students who are learning English make up about three to five percent of students in the state, but the percentage in each district varies widely.

For districts like Scott County, with a 12 percent English Language Learner population, and Forest Municipal School District, with 28 percent, the change could have a big impact on the district’s accountability scores.

Rep. Tom Miles, a Democrat from Forest, said the decision is unfair to the schools in his district.

“It’s not fair to the school district and schools working to get their scores up to have students arrive who can’t speak English” and be counted in the annual grading process, Miles said.

Oakley told the board the U.S. Department of Education also took issue with the state’s indicator for the growth of the lowest-performing 25 percent of all students.

“Because this indicator does not consider the performance of all students, it does not meet the statutory requirements,” the letter to state education officials stated.

MDE Chief of Accountability Paula Vanderford

Oakley and Paula Vanderford, chief accountability officer at the Mississippi Department of Education, said their hope is to fix the indicator to meet the regulations without requiring a reset of the cut scores in the accountability model.

“We’re not looking at adding extra points, but what can we do within the point structure we’ve got right now,” Oakley said.

Education officials recently set new cut scores in August of last year. The new cut scores were to reconcile the scores of the three different state assessments administered over the last three years (Mississippi Curriculum Test, PARCC and the Mississippi Assessment Program).

Mississippi will send an updated plan back to the federal government on Feb. 1.


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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.