School ratings: Key takeaways signal trouble on horizon for some schools while tide is turning for charters

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Accountability ratings brought positive results for many school districts.

On Thursday the Mississippi State Board of Education voted to approve accountability results for the 2018-19 school year, which means these grades are now official.

While the ratings brought positive results for many school districts, not all fared well. Ratings are used to determine which schools should join the newly-launched state-run Achievement School District tasked with improving chronically failing schools.

There are three ways a district is eligible:

• Have an F accountability rating for two consecutive years, or twice in a three-year period

• Half or more of a district’s schools are rated F

•Half or more of the students in a school district attend an F-rated school

A Mississippi Today analysis shows at least six school districts meet all three of these requirements: Amite County, East Tallahatchie, North Bolivar, West Bolivar, Noxubee, and Yazoo City Municipal school districts.

The Noxubee County and Yazoo City Municipal school districts are already under state leadership. Noxubee was placed in the district of transformation model last year, and Yazoo City joined the Achievement School District as one of its inaugural districts this summer.

Charter schools improve

In the charter sector, executive director of the charter school authorizer board Lisa Karmacharya said she was pleased with this year’s scores. All charter schools that were eligible to receive a grade (Smilow Collegiate and Clarksdale Collegiate were too new) for the 2018-19 school year improved a letter grade.

“We are absolutely thrilled to see our schools improving year after year and so very appreciative of the hard work of our teachers and school leaders,”she said. “It is exciting to see such growth and improvement.”

Reimagine Prep earned a B, Smilow Prep earned a C, and Midtown Public Charter School earned a D. Each school showed improvements in their growth scores — Midtown in particular — meaning individual student performance in math and reading improved from one year to next. Growth scores are an indicator of how well school districts are improving performance for each individual student, as well as the bottom 25 percent of students in a district.

The 2019-20 school year is the fifth for Reimagine Prep and Midtown Public, the state’s inaugural charter schools. By law, a charter school’s contract will be up for renewal after its fifth year, and the authorizer board can decide to revoke or renew charter based on the school’s performance.

Midtown, which until this year was consecutively F-rated, improved 107 points which led to an improved letter grade. In a Facebook post, the school wrote it is incredibly proud of this growth and credited that to the hard work of students, parents and teachers.

“We aren’t yet satisfied with our results, and we don’t believe they have yet to capture the full brilliance and potential of our students,” the post read.

When asked about Midtown, Karmacharya pointed to the charter’s more than 100 point improvement and also said: “The authorizer board will always have concerns when our schools do not perform well as one of our goals is to ensure only high-quality public charters operate in Mississippi.”

“…The board will follow its established renewal process and take into consideration all of the facts presented in order to make an informed decision,” she said.

Corinth rating “moving toward” an accurate portrayal 

Miss. Assoc. of School Superintendents

Corinth School District Superintendent Lee Childress

In Northeast Mississippi, the Corinth School District saw an improvement this year with a B rating, although the high school is still rated F. This is a year after the district launched a longstanding battle against the state Department of Education that led to actions in the state Capitol and courts. Superintendent Lee Childress has argued from the beginning that measuring his district with the state’s accountability model is unfair since Corinth schools use a different curriculum because they have a special designation from the state to educate students in innovative ways.

“The B accountability rating is moving toward a more accurate portrayal of the school district’s academic and achievement growth performance,” Childress said. “However, the high school rating does not truly reflect the performance of that school as the rating is based partly on data from past years when the school did not believe they would be held accountable for those test results as part of our District of Innovation status.”

Although Corinth students spend most of their four-quarter school year preparing for different tests than the ones used to assign ratings in the accountability model, the district had a 94.8 percent graduation rate last year, and a near perfect acceleration score. Acceleration measures a district’s participation and performance in accelerated courses like Advanced Placement, dual credit and International Baccalaureate programs.

Grad rates up but low proficiency rates troubling

The statewide graduation rate rose marginally to 84 percent, although there are outliers in this statistic. Some schools with the highest graduation rates also had some of the lowest ratings. For example, Shaw High School in the Delta had a 92 percent graduation rate but the school is rated F. Less than 10 percent of students were proficient in reading and 13 percent were proficient in math, according to the data. At Port Gibson High School in southwest Mississippi, 5 percent of students were proficient in reading and 18 percent were proficient in math. The school had a graduation rate of 88 percent.

When asked about this, Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright acknowledged this was a concern.

“That is something we are looking at at the department level, to be honest,” Wright said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “It’s hard to believe you have a high graduation rate when you have low proficiency rates.”

Wright said the department plans to released a more detailed review of accountability results broken down by subgroups like race and disability status at the board’s October meeting.

Search your school district’s grade here.