Education

Shakeup in accountability scores as two top Coast school districts slip to a B

Popp’s Ferry Elementary School students in Biloxi prepare to load on to the school buses in 2009
Popp’s Ferry Elementary School students in Biloxi prepare to load on to the school buses in 2009 Sun Herald File

Change has been a constant in Mississippi state testing, but for the first time in several years schools can more accurately compare this year’s scores to last year’s scores.

The Mississippi Department of Education on Thursday released to the public its annual accountability grades for the 2016-17 school year. Both the tests and grading system are similar to the previous year for the first time since at least 2013.

The results released Thursday show South Mississippi school districts mostly stayed the same as the previous year. Ocean Springs was the highest-ranked district and fifth in the state. Moss Point was lowest, just 28 points from a failing F grade, and 118th of 146 districts.

Two districts went up a grade and three went down.

Biloxi and Poplarville both improved from a B to an A. Biloxi was also first in the state in the acceleration component, which measures the proficiency and number of students who take Advanced Placement, dual credit and industry certification courses.

“We used last year’s results as a guide for this year’s goals,” said Dr. Karen Norwood, Biloxi Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education. “Through the dedication of our teachers, administrators and students, we are proud to say we met and exceeded those goals. We will continue to strive for excellence from all and for all.”

Growth goal

Pass Christian and Jackson County school districts both slipped from an A to B. Picayune slipped from a B to a C.

For Pass Christian, just three points broke the six-year streak of A grades.

“In looking at our district performance as a whole, it was certainly disappointing to fall three points shy of achieving an A,” said Pass Christian Superintendent Carla Evers, who started in July 2016. “However, we see this as actionable data from which we will grow.”

She said in a statement that she’s spent the past year listening to teachers, administrators and parents. “Based on their feedback and data reviews, we have made necessary adjustments such as aligning resources and assessments to our high-quality instruction. We have a very talented team of educators and amazing learners who look forward to upholding our legacy of excellence.”

Jackson County Superintendent Barry Amacker also expressed disappointment, especially because all three of its high schools got A grades for the first time. The school district’s website has “An MDE ‘A-Rated’ School District” emblazoned across its homepage.

“This year every one of our proficiency levels went up. And then you go down to a B. That makes it hard.”

If that seems odd, know that the criteria heavily weights growth and it’s hard to grow when you’re already at the top. That was one reason a 2015 PEER report said “the department’s emphasis on growth fails to demonstrate actual performance.” MDE disputed the report.

“Statistically the higher up you get it’s just that much harder to meet growth, that’s just the way it is,” Amacker said.

“But we’re not making excuses or anything. ... you just gotta dig harder and grow.”

He also said the amount of changes in state testing has been “a little bit mind-boggling.” He said after the schools were informed of their scores earlier this year and appeals were made, yet another adjustment was made by MDE. “That’s a little bit frustrating. How can you plan for next time?”

Students were tested on the Mississippi Assessment Program for the past two years. In 2014-15 the state used PARCC, which is a Common Core testing consortium. In 2013-14, the state used the Mississippi Curriculum Test.

A new baseline

State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright said last year the 2015-16 results marked “ a new starting point for measuring the progress of schools and districts across the state.”

However, the 2016-17 results will be used as a new baseline after “artificially high growth rates” were included in the 2015-16 grades, MDE said in Thursday’s press release.

The state Board of Education reset scoring levels in August, re-ranked districts from top to bottom and set new thresholds. Officials compared ratings under the new and old tables, assigning the schools the higher of the two grades.

Superintendents had lobbied for using the old scoring tables, saying it was unfair to move the goalposts so late in the year, and that effort paid dividends for districts and high schools. Of the 143 districts and three charter schools rated, 28 would have gotten lower letter grades under the new baseline. Some of those districts will have to show substantial improvements in this year’s results just to keep their same grades.

The boost was even bigger for high schools after state officials agreed to recalculate how they assess whether student performance improved. Although last year was the second year students took the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program tests, some high school grades still count tests students took in earlier years. Making apples-and-oranges comparisons to determine score improvements between different tests is difficult.

Elementary and middle schools, by contrast, did not benefit from the adjustments and scored lower, overall. While 20 percent of high schools got an A, only 10 percent of elementary and middle schools did. State testing chief Walt Drane said the new baseline for high schools may have to be reset again, depending on future data, because the growth numbers they’ll have to hit this year to retain their grades or improve will be very high.

Statewide

Across the state, about one in five school districts showed improvement under the state’s rating system in 2016-17, with some benefiting from better graduation rates and test scores and others apparently benefiting from changes in the scoring system.

The number of F-rated districts fell from 20 to nine, while the number of districts earning a C, B or A rating all increased.

Graduation rates rose, test scores improved and more high school students enrolled in accelerated courses statewide, which drove some districts’ better test scores.

How schools are ranked

The state started officially ranking schools using letter grades A-F in 2013. The grades are based on a point system that measures growth, proficiency in state tests and the four-year graduation rate, if the school has a 12th grade. In 2015-16, the high school point system changed to include ACT scores as well as participation and performance in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement and dual credit/dual enrollment courses.

“Mississippi students are taking more challenging tests than in years past,” the MDE website says. “They are not the simple fill-in-the-bubble end-of-year exams. These tests ask questions that require students to explain their reasoning. They measure more complex, real-world skills, such as critical-thinking, writing, and problem solving.”

For elementary and middle schools, there are seven categories at 100 points each, so the maximum score is 700.

For high schools, there are 11 categories with a mix of 100 and 50 points, and the maximum score is 1,000.

For all schools, four of the categories, or 400 points, is based on growth overall as well as growth for the lowest 25 percent of test takers. Growth is partly determined by comparison with the state average.

“The system also places an emphasis on student academic growth, particularly the lowest performing 25 percent of students. Students meet growth if their scores improve from one proficiency level to the next, or move sufficiently within the lower proficiency levels.”

On MDE’s accountability website, it also says school and district performance will improve over time.

“We expect to see continued growth in all of the indicators we measure as teachers continue to challenge and support their students,” Wright said. “Our students have demonstrated, once again, that there is no limit to what they can achieve.”

Lauren Walck: 228-896-2393, @laurenwalck

2017 South Mississippi accountability scores by district

School districts

2017 grade

2016 grade

Rank out of 146 districts

Ocean Springs

A

A

5

Poplarville

A

B

8

Biloxi

A

B

9

Long Beach

A

A

14

Pass Christian

B

A

17

Gulfport

B

B

19

Jackson County

B

A

22

Harrison County

B

B

28

Bay St. Louis-Waveland

B

B

29

Stone County

B

B

33

Pearl River County

B

B

40

George County

B

B

43

Pascagoula

B

B

49

Hancock County

B

B

54

Picayune

C

B

79

Moss Point

D

D

118

2017 South Mississippi accountability scores by school

Schools

2017 grade

2016 grade

BAY ST. LOUIS-WAVELAND SCHOOL DISTRICT

North Bay Elementary

C

B

Waveland Elementary

D

A

Bay Waveland Middle

A

C

Bay High

A

B

BILOXI SCHOOL DISTRICT

Jeff Davis Elementary

B

A

Gorenflo Elementary

B

D

North Bay Elementary

A

A

Popp’s Ferry Elementary

A

B

Biloxi Junior High

B

B

Biloxi High

B

B

GEORGE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Agricola Elementary

B

B

Rocky Creek Elementary

B

B

Central Elementary

B

C

LC Hatcher Elementary

D

C

Benndale Elementary

D

C

Lt. Taylor Intermediate

B

B

George County High

A

B

GULFPORT SCHOOL DISTRICT

Anniston Avenue Elementary

B

A

West Elementary

A

A

Gaston Point Elementary

A

D

Pass Road Elementary

A

B

Central Elementary

C

C

28th Street Elementary

C

D

Bayou View Elementary

A

A

Bayou View Middle

B

B

Gulfport Central Middle

C

C

Gulfport High

A

A

HANCOCK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

West Hancock Elementary

C

A

South Hancock Elementary

C

B

East Hancock Elementary

B

A

Hancock North Central Elementary

D

C

Hancock Middle

C

C

Hancock High

A

B

HARRISON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Orange Grove Elementary

D

D

North Woolmarket Elementary

A

A

West Wortham Elementary and Middle

A

B

Three Rivers Elementary

A

C

Lizana Elementary

B

B

Pineville Elementary

B

A

Woolmarket Elementary

B

B

Saucier Elementary

B

B

D’Iberville Elementary

B

D

River Oaks Elementary

B

B

Lyman Elementary

B

B

Crossroads Elementary

C

D

Harrison Central Elementary

D

C

Bel Aire Elementary

C

C

D’Iberville Middle

B

C

North Gulfport Middle

C

C

West Harrison High

A

B

Harrison Central High

B

B

D’Iberville High

B

B

JACKSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Vancleave Upper Elementary

B

B

Vancleave Lower Elementary

B

A

St. Martin East Elementary

B

A

St. Martin Upper Elementary

B

B

St. Martin North Elementary

C

A

East Central Upper Elementary

B

B

St. Martin Middle

B

B

Vancleave Middle

B

A

East Central Middle

A

A

East Central High

A

A

St. Martin High

A

A

Vancleave High

A

A

LONG BEACH SCHOOL DISTRICT

Harper McCaughan Elementary

B

B

Thomas L. Reeves Elementary

B

B

WJ Quarles Elementary

C

A

Long Beach Middle

A

A

Long Beach Senior High

A

A

MOSS POINT SCHOOL DISTRICT

Moss Point Kreole Primary

C

D

Moss Point Escatawpa Upper Elementary

D

F

Magnolia Middle

F

D

Moss Point High

B

D

OCEAN SPRINGS SCHOOL DISTRICT

Ocean Springs Upper Elementary

B

B

Magnolia Park Elementary

B

C

Pecan Park Elementary

B

B

Oak Park Elementary

B

B

Ocean Springs Middle

B

B

Ocean Springs High

A

A

PASCAGOULA-GAUTIER SCHOOL DISTRICT

Eastlawn Elementary

B

B

Beach Elementary

B

C

Jackson Elementary

B

B

Singing River Academy

B

D

Lake Elementary

B

B

Martin Bluff Elementary

C

B

Gautier Elementary

C

B

Trent Lott Academy

C

C

College Park Elementary

D

C

Arlington Heights Elementary

D

F

Central Elementary

D

D

Cherokee Elementary

D

B

Gautier Middle

B

B

William M. Colmer Middle

C

C

Pascagoula High

A

A

Gautier High

A

B

PASS CHRISTIAN SCHOOL DISTRICT

Delisle Elementary

B

B

Pass Christian Elementary

C

B

Pass Christian Middle

B

B

Pass Christian High

A

A

PEARL RIVER COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Pearl River Central Upper Elementary

C

D

Pearl River Central Lower Elementary

D

D

Pearl River Central Junior High

B

A

Pearl River Central High

A

B

PICAYUNE SCHOOL DISTRICT

South Side Elementary

C

B

South Side Lower Elementary

D

B

Nicholson Elementary

C

C

West Side Elementary

C

B

Roseland Park Elementary

C

C

Picayune Junior High

C

C

Picayune Memorial High

B

B

POPLARVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT

Poplarville Upper Elementary

B

B

Poplarville Lower Elementary

B

C

Poplarville Middle

B

C

Poplarville Junior Senior High

A

B

STONE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Perkinston Elementary

A

A

Stone Elementary

A

B

Stone Middle

B

C

Stone High

B

B

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