Public Comments Submitted to MDE Regarding Mississippi Succeeds Plan

June 10, 2017

Dr. Carey Wright
Dr. Nathan Oakley
Mississippi Department of Education
PO Box 771
Jackson, MS 39205-0771

Dear Dr. Wright and Dr. Oakley,

Please accept these written comments regarding the proposed Mississippi Consolidated State Plan, Mississippi Succeeds, being considered by the Mississippi Board of Education (MBE) for submission to the U.S. Department of Education in accordance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Parents’ Campaign shares the board’s goal of ensuring that all Mississippi students graduate from high school well prepared to enter college or a career, and we applaud, generally, the ambitious plan set forth in Mississippi Succeeds.

The Parents’ Campaign has two primary concerns with the plan:
     1. Unintended consequences associated with the proposed addition of the Algebra II state assessment
     2. Resources that are insufficient for students and teachers to achieve the ambitious goals proposed in the plan

1. Unintended consequences associated with the proposed addition of the Algebra II state assessment. In the Mississippi Succeeds plan, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) proposes to add a more rigorous Algebra II assessment for accountability purposes at the high school level for students who take Algebra I in grade eight (Section A, Item 2iii, page 7).

a. Adding an Algebra II state test for accountability purposes penalizes school districts for providing students the opportunity to take advanced math before high school. Students’ test scores and growth measures are likely to be at least marginally lower on the more rigorous Algebra II assessment than on the Algebra I assessment, even for more advanced students. Therefore, school districts that push the broadest possible group of students toward a more rigorous math track risk lowering their accountability ratings, a factor likely to result in fewer opportunities for students to take an accelerated course of study and one that runs counter to the goal of accelerating learning. This penalty has the potential to be exacerbated by the field test cohort. Cut scores for every other state test are set based upon the full range of scores from the entire student population. If Algebra II cut scores are based upon a field test of only advanced students (those who take Algebra I in grade eight), and if proficiency scores are set based upon a bell curve, some advanced students who would score proficient or advanced on a test normed on all students might well find themselves at the basic or passing level of a test normed on only advanced students.

b. The addition of the Algebra II state test is likely to reduce opportunities for advanced students to take advanced math in early grades. District leaders must consider the potential impact of this policy on the district and community as a whole, including “school recognition” salary boosts for their teachers. If offering some students the opportunity to take advanced math early risks a lower accountability rating for the high school and the entire district, district leaders are less likely to offer Algebra I in grade eight. Potential remedy: If the Mississippi Board of Education adds the Algebra II assessment for accountability purposes, a “bonus” of some sort should be added to the accountability model to offset the penalty for districts that offer Algebra I in grade eight.

c. Costs are high, Mississippians are test weary. The unequivocal feedback we have received from parents and students is that they view this as punitive - trading the general math assessment (which required little or no additional preparation for the Algebra I students in grade eight) for a more difficult assessment in high school – at the same time these students are preparing for other end-of-course state assessments and exams associated with the acceleration component of the state accountability model. Given our state’s scarce resources and the costs associated with creating, administering, and scoring a new assessment, we urge you to avoid adding any new state tests if at all possible.

2. Resources that are insufficient for students and teachers to achieve the ambitious goals. The Parents’ Campaign believes that Mississippi students are as bright and capable as the students in any other state, and, when provided a level playing field, can achieve at the same levels. We also know that students in other states are provided considerably more in the way of resources that are required to meet academic goals as lofty as those set out in the Mississippi Succeeds plan.

a. Mississippi Department of Education leaders should develop a Mississippi Succeeds budget and be vocal advocates for adequate resources for public school students and teachers. A Mississippi Succeeds budget should be posted publicly in conjunction with the Mississippi Succeeds plan, laying out the funding required for every student in every district to meet each of the MBE’s goals and objectives. For example, a goal is to eliminate the achievement gap for Black students. To achieve this laudable goal, significant resources must be applied toward a comprehensive program that includes high-quality pre-kindergarten, wrap-around services, family engagement, and other supports that affect student achievement. These costs associated with the goal should be clearly communicated publicly, and any deficit in providing the necessary resources should be posted publicly alongside achievement and accountability outcomes for Black students. Likewise, the cost of providing a literacy coach to every school that needs one should be included in the Mississippi Succeeds budget and any deficit reported alongside results of the third-grade reading exam.

b. Each member of the Mississippi Board of Education should be a vocal advocate for adequate resources for public school students and teachers. A primary responsibility of the MBE is to ensure that students and teachers have the resources they need to be successful. Board members should take every opportunity to demand that the State of Mississippi do its part to engender the success of our most valuable resource, our children, by providing the resources laid out in the Mississippi Succeeds budget.

We applaud the work of the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Board of Education to continue and accelerate Mississippi’s improvement in academic achievement, and we look forward to partnering with you to support students and teachers as they reach for these ambitious goals.

Thank you for considering these comments and for your efforts to ensure that every Mississippi student has a shot at success.

Warm regards,

Nancy Loome
Executive Director

cc: The Honorable Rosemary Aultman, Chair, Mississippi Board of Education
Dr. Jason Dean
Mr. Buddy Bailey
Mrs. Kami Bumgarner
Dr. Karen Elam
Mr. Johnny Franklin
Mr. William Harold Jones
Dr. John Kelly
Mr. Charles McClelland