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Public comment sought for new school-rating plan

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Graduation rates will make a difference this year in how Mississippi high schools and school districts are rated.

The state Board of Education is likely today to seek public comment on a plan to add four-year graduation rates to the numerical formula that rates high schools and school districts. The board is likely to vote on the plan in April.

The move comes a year after a different measure of graduation rates was removed from the rating formula, sparking criticism from lawmakers. They say any measure of school quality should take into account how many students graduate from high school.

However, because a task force is designing a new system to start in 2013-14, the plan being considered Friday will only be in effect for one year. It would not affect elementary or middle schools.

“This is for the ’12-’13 school year only,” said Paula Vanderford, who leads accountability efforts for the state Department of Education

As plans stand now, districts and high schools will effectively be graded five different ways in five consecutive years, counting the fact that new state tests covering the Common Core standards are supposed to begin in the 2014-15 school year. Those tests will provide different inputs to calculate the new rating systems than the current MCT2 state tests.

“We’ve made so many changes,” Lamar County Superintendent Ben Burnett said. “We’re just ready to have something in place.”

Burnett said he’s worried because his district is already shifting to teaching based on Common Core even though the state is still using the old tests. The Common Core standards, developed by school officials from across the country to say what students should learn in each grade, are supposed to increase academic rigor in Mississippi.

Vanderford said the state is developing a plan to account for the shift to Common Core, but isn’t ready to discuss it.

The current grading system assigns a number, called the quality of distribution index, to represent how many students are performing at advanced, proficient or basic levels on standardized tests. That number can range from 0 to 300, but most schools and districts score between 90 and 210. The 2012-13 system would take the percentage of a high school’s students who graduate within four years and add that number to the index.

Every current grading range would have 80 points added to it, meaning any school without an 80 percent graduation rate might be bumped down a level from the grade it would actually earn. However, districts with graduation rates higher than 80 percent could be boosted a level.

“As a superintendent, if your graduation rate is high, you’ll love it,” state Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann said at a Thursday board work session.

Mississippi’s four-year graduation rate is 73.7 percent, Vanderford said, although some national measures say it’s even lower.

The department ran projections using data from the 2011-12 school year that found that the number of A-rated districts would have risen from 2 percent to 5.3 percent, but the number of F-rated districts would balloon from 13.9 percent to 22.5 percent if the system had been used.

If lawmakers follow through with plans to widen the authorization for charter schools in Mississippi, the 2012-13 system would mean more districts wouldn’t be allowed to block such independently-run public schools in their territories. The share of districts rated D and F would rise from 38.4 to 44.4 percent, while the share of districts rated C, D or F would rise from 66.9 percent to 72.2 percent.

Vanderford said a task force developing the new system that will be used for the school year beginning this fall could be presented to the board in April, meaning that after public comment it could be adopted in May.



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