A month before annual school grades are set to be released, the Mississippi Department of Education is considering changing the way high schools are scored.

Earlier this week the Commission on School Accreditation voted to recommend changing the baseline score used to calculate annual accountability ratings for high schools. On Thursday, the State Board of Education declined to adopt their recommendation and sent it back to the commission for further consideration.

The waffling comes from a discrepancy between the most recent state test results and how they translate into accountability ratings. Despite 2017-18 results showing most Mississippi students are improving in tested subjects, the preliminary accountability scores did not reflect this for high schools which prompted education officials to consider the change.

Each year the department assigns A through F grades to each school district and their respective schools using a complex accountability system. Currently, elementary and middle schools are graded on a 700 point scale that factors in growth, performance and proficiency in reading, math and science for all students and low-performing students as well.

High schools are graded on a 1,000 point scale that measures growth and proficiency in reading, math, science and U.S. History, as well as graduation rates, college and career readiness, and participation and performance in special courses such as advanced placement and international baccalaureate.

The department tweaked the system last year because it was the first time the state had results from the same test in a consecutive two-year period. Mississippi changed state tests three times in three years — from the Mississippi Curriculum Test to PARCC to the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) — which resulted in an uneven comparison of test results. Last August the board changed the accountability system to the one currently used today because growth scores were artificially inflated and affected ratings.

Department officials said the reason for the proposed change stems from how growth is calculated for high schools — last year it was calculated as growth from PARCC to MAAP and this year the state used MAAP to MAAP comparisons, meaning the growth calculations did not result in an apples to apples comparison.

If high schools are graded this year using the same base score, the number of A high schools would drop from 50 to 7, and the number of F schools would jump from 4 to 60, according to the department.

Board member Johnny Franklin argued changing the system once more was unfair to districts and the state should just set a definition of “excellence” and hold districts to it.

“We keep saying we’re not going to do this anymore, and every year we jerk our districts around and give them a new expectation,” Franklin said.

State Superintendent Carey Wright explained that the state’s accountability system is not set in stone and sometimes changes to it are necessary to ensure that data is accurate and fair.

“It’s not about the numbers of A’s, B’s, C’s or F’s that we have included in the distribution,” Chief Accountability Officer Paula Vanderford said. “It’s about ensuring that the information that feeds into the accountability system…is an accurate reflection of how students are actually performing in the classroom.”

The state board will meet once more to make a decision at 10 a.m. on Aug. 23, and the commission will meet sometime next week ahead of the board meeting. Final accountability ratings are scheduled to be released to the public in September.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.