School Ratings: Percentile Rankings & New Cut Scores - Again

Posted 8/15/17

The Mississippi Department of Education's (MDE's) Commission on School Accreditation (CSA) has recommended that new accountability cut scores be set and that percentile rankings be used again this year to determine school and school district ratings.

MDE officials explained that the cut scores were set artificially high last year. Director of Assessment Walt Drane shared this analogy, "...it would be like Track & Field. We're setting the bar, literally, too high; the hurdle last year was jacked up about 20 points higher than it should be on the numerical value, so we're going to bring the hurdle down a little bit..."

But the hurdle isn't being lowered for all school districts. It appears that the hurdle will be raised for those at the lower end of the accountability spectrum.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education will be asked to reset the baseline scores for A, B, C, D, and F ratings. If the board adopts this policy, schools and districts will again be placed in percentile rankings and be graded based upon where each falls in relation to all other schools and districts in the state, rather than each school and district being graded on its own merit. These percentile rankings mandate a predetermined number of districts in each rating category: exactly 14 school districts will be rated A, 38 B, 36 C, 34 D, and 21 F, regardless of their performance.

In future years, ratings will be based on cut scores, which will be set based on this year's percentile rankings. The cut score for an A rating will be determined by whatever happens to be the score of the school district that falls closest to the 90th percentile when the districts are listed in order by numerical score. Likewise, the cut score for a B rating will be determined by the score of the school district that lands closest to the 63rd percentile, and so on.

Certainly, if the cut scores are flawed, they should be adjusted - perhaps downward by the 20 points noted in Mr. Drane's comments. Our primary concerns are threefold:

1. Last year, schools and districts were given specific baseline scores that they could work toward in order to earn a higher rating. Those scores are now being tossed out just as ratings are being assigned.

2. It was stated repeatedly in today's CSA meeting that MDE's goal is to ensure that the baseline scores used to assign accountability ratings accurately reflect the performance of schools and school districts. Using a percentile ranking to award ratings and adjust scores does not meet that standard.

3. Though MDE officials have said that the current baseline scores are set too high, it appears that districts at the lower end of the spectrum are having their baseline scores raised even higher in order to ensure that 21 of them (14 percent) will be rated F. Using current cut scores, only 12 would earn an F rating, per MDE. Last year, 19 school districts were rated F. That means that at least 7 school districts were able to move out of the F category per the baseline scores that were set last year. Now, if percentile rankings are adopted for use again this year, the 21 lowest performing school districts will be rated F, though only 12 of them appear to have earned the F rating - even with the bar set "too high." The Accreditation Commission is recommending that the schools and districts that would have been rated D based on current cut scores but will be forced into the F category by the new baseline scores be held harmless from associated sanctions.

The Mississippi Board of Education will meet on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. and will consider this proposal for adoption. You can find a listing of board members and their contact information here.

Thank you for all you do for Mississippi public school children!