September 21, 2018 11:09:52 AM
Local school administrators expressed shock at the State Board of Education's decision Thursday to postpone approving letter grade accountability ratings for school districts and schools.
Less than two hours before the ratings were to be made public, SBE members voted to delay their approval, citing discontent with what they were presented. That rendered the ratings the Mississippi Department of Education had already released to school districts and the media as "unofficial."
Though area superintendents said they don't believe ratings will change once SBE approves them in October, it is still too early to tell. Columbus Municipal, Lowndes County and Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District all improved from 2017, according to the unofficial ratings.
The decision was so last-minute, even MDE committee members were unaware it was coming.
SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant, who serves on the MDE Superintendent Advisory Council, said the council met Wednesday with no mention the ratings might not be approved.
"There was no discussion of that in our meeting, so I'm assuming everyone who was a part of that meeting assumed they would be approved (on Thursday) also," Peasant said.
Accountability grades, which rate schools and school districts on an A-F scale, are based on several factors, including how well students perform and progress on end-of-year assessments for English Language Arts and Mathematics. The system also accounts for how students perform on fifth and eighth grade science tests.
High school accountability grades include the four-year graduation rate, student performance on biology, U.S. History and ACT tests, and student participation and performance in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes.
School districts received the unofficial ratings earlier this month, and The Dispatch received an embargoed copy from MDE on Monday with the understanding they could not be published until noon Thursday. By the time MDE posted a notice on its website of the state board's decision to delay the ratings' approval, The Dispatch's Thursday edition had already gone to press.
Patrice Guilfoyle, director of communication for MDE, said she could not speculate why the approval of the ratings were delayed.
"Based on the board discussion, because this was a board decision, they wanted more time to review the results," Guilfoyle said. "MDE stands by the results that were produced. The board just has to approve those in October."
Guilfoyle said MDE did not have any input or any prior knowledge the ratings were up for debate. She did not elaborate if the accountability ratings would change before the board votes in October.
SBE members did not respond to messages from The Dispatch by press time.
The Associated Press reported the SBE voted to change the scale by which high schools were graded because the unofficial ratings showed more high schools' ratings declining, despite their graduation rates and test scores rising.
High schools in CMSD, SOCSD and LCSD all rated C or better, except for West Lowndes High, which rated a D.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said that she doesn't believe the delayed release will affect the ratings of the district.
"My hope is that MDE will have the scores finalized by October, so we can move forward as a district," Labat said. "I would rather it be correct than inaccurate. I just want them to be as accurate as it can be."
Labat said in July, MDE released data that gave administrators a "good idea" of accountability, and released the would-be results in early September.
Though the accountability ratings have historically been released in October, LCSD Deputy Superintendent Robin Ballard said she was told MDE wanted to release the ratings earlier this year to be a better tool for school districts.
"(MDE) told us at a meeting in July that they were going to work hard, because they understood that we had to make some instructional decisions based on those scores," Ballard said. "It seemed like they had everything in line like they were supposed to. We were so glad to get them a month early, but here we go again."
Ballard said LCSD received embargoed final school and district ratings earlier in September but had no indication the ratings would not be board approved. Ballard added she did not believe any ranking would change from what the districts were given, but if a change happened, it would be at the high school level.
"We just don't know," Ballard said. "We shall just sit in the spin cycle and wait."
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