June 6, 2014 10:19:51 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi schools will get a one-year grace period in the state's school and district rating system as they move to a new curriculum.
The U.S. Department of Education told state officials Tuesday that it would approve the waiver for grades in the just-concluded school year. However, districts are unlikely to get waivers in the coming 2014-2015 school year, as originally envisioned.
The federal government must approve the state plan because it also meets federal requirements. It assigns A-to-F letter grades to schools and districts based on test scores, graduation rates and other criteria. The waiver means a school or district can keep the letter grade it received after the 2012-13 school year if the 2013-14 grade is lower. If the school scores a higher grade, it will get the higher grade.
State Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann says the waiver is important because schools moved this year to teaching a curriculum to meet the Common Core state standards, but the state used old tests measuring learning of old standards.
"It's not fair to hold them accountable for something they haven't even taught," Gann said. "To do so would have discouraged them from moving on."
Federal officials ordered the state to rework its rating system so that more of the grade was based on high-school graduation rates. After state superintendents objected to raised test scores required for certain grades, the board reworked the system again in May. The federal government must still approve the wider system, but state Superintendent Carey Wright said the state has "every level of confidence" that the U.S. Department of Education will grant its blessing.
Mississippi is adopting new tests designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a multi-state consortium. Most educators believe the share of students scoring well on tests will drop sharply in the coming school year, the first time the tests are administered statewide. PARCC will set score levels, which means Mississippi students will have to score the same as students from highly rated states such as Massachusetts or Maryland to be judged proficient.
An additional grace period would have given students and teachers time to adapt to the new tests, and to measure test-score growth, which is part of Mississippi's rating system. Wright said the state is studying how to measure growth without a previous set of tests.
She said she accepts that schools will be rated using the tests following the 2014-2015 school year.
"Everybody's going to be in pretty much the same boat in terms of having implemented the Common Core state standards and being assessed on it," she said.
Gann said he would favor PARCC adopting a stair-step approach of raising required score levels over time.
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