School district earns high scores despite obstacles


English Language Arts and Mathematics state test results are in for third grade through to high school students for the 2016-17 school year.

“I am proud of what they were able to do in this past school year to prepare our students for the test,” said Petal School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon.

“We focus on teaching the standards to the highest level,” Dillon said. “Our teachers do a phenomenal job, because they are content experts in their fields. From there, through relationships, they are able to get the most out of our students.”

While accountability “grades” will not be released until October, the school district has one piece of the puzzle with the release of the district’s proficiency level for the past school year.

State test grades are given on five levels: minimal, basic, pass, proficient and advanced. Proficiency scores are the total of students who received proficient and advanced scores.

Petal School District scores showed high proficiency scores on the 2016-17 tests, particularly in mathematics, according to Dillon.

According to a news release from the Mississippi Department of Education, the 2016-17 MAAP results show overall proficiency increased in both English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics across the state.

Approximately 49 percent of the 326 third-grade students who were tested in ELA received a proficient score, while 14.1 percent earned advanced scores. Of the same students tested in mathematics, 49.1 percent scored proficient and 25.8 percent scored advanced.

Approximately 38.2 percent of fourth-grade students tested received a proficient score and 3.2 percent tested advanced out of 314 students tested. Around 38.5 percent scored proficient on the math test and 18.8 received advanced scores.

Around 40.5 percent of the 284 fifth-grade students who were tested in ELA received a proficient score, while 14.1 percent earned advanced scores. On the math test, 36.3 percent scored proficient and 33.8 scored advanced.

Approximately 33.8 percent of sixth-grade students tested received a proficient score and 28 percent tested advanced out of 296 students tested in ELA. In math, 37.5 percent scored proficient and 29.4 percent scored advanced.

Of the 326 seventh-grade students taking the ELA test, 25.2 percent scored proficient and 16.6 percent earned advanced scores. However, on the math test, 43.6 percent score proficient and 37.7 percent received advanced scores.

Approximately 39.9 percent of eighth-grade students taking the ELA test scored proficient and 20.6 percent scored advanced of the 281 students tested. On the math test, 29.9 percent scored advanced and 37.4 percent scored proficient.

Of the 331 Petal High School students taking the English II test, 43.2 percent scored proficient and 17.8 percent scored advanced. With 342 students taking the Algebra I test, 52.9 percent scored proficient and 12.9 percent scored advanced.

Dillon said these scores are particularly impressive because of the adversity the district faced during the last school year, especially the tornado in January that destroyed the Petal Upper Elementary School and left students, faculty and staff displaced during peak time for preparing for state testing.

“I could not be more proud of our focus during that time, meeting (students’) physical and emotional needs, but also academically for us to be able to perform at that high of a level through all of the adversity that we faced, is not surprising for us with the staff we have,” he said.

Dillon credited the district’s testing success with strong leadership at the building level within the district and the teachers who prepared students for testing.

“I could not be more proud as a superintendent of the scores we got this year,” he said.

The number of students scoring proficient and advanced counts toward the school district’s overall accountability score.

MDE’s accountability system grades schools on an A-F scale.

The accountability testing model totals 1,000 points split among 11 categories, including reading proficiency, reading growth, reading growth above 25 percent, math proficiency, math growth, math growth above 25 percent, science proficiency, U.S. history proficiency, graduation rate, college and career readiness and acceleration.

However, change could be coming for the accountability grades that are given to school districts each year. The 2016-17 accountability grades will be released in October.

The Commission on School Accreditation (CSA) voted Wednesday to recommend that the Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) establish a new baseline for assigning school and district letter grades for the 2016-17 school year.

According to a news release from (MDE), CSA based its decision on the unanimous recommendation of the statewide Accountability Task Force and the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE) Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).

The three groups agreed that a new baseline is needed to correct artificially high growth rates included in the 2015-16 accountability grades.

“If we don’t make this change now, school and district grades this year and in the future will not give a true picture of their performance,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education in the news release. “The MDE needed two years of results from the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) to conduct an analysis of the data and to establish a stable baseline.”

After the release of the 2015-16 accountability results, some districts raised concerns that their growth rates were abnormally high and could not be sustained over subsequent years. The growth rates were based on multiple assessment programs that were administered over a multi-year period.

“Due to the instability in growth, the ability to meaningfully compare performance from year to year is compromised. Therefore, resetting cut scores to establish a new baseline is recommended,” said Dr. Chris Domaleski, associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment and chair of the TAC.

According to MDE, the 2016-17 accountability grades include a measure of growth that is based on students taking the MAAP tests for two years in a row, which would be the first year with MAAP to MAAP results in which growth is measured with the same assessments and is accurately portrayed. This is the reason that a new baseline must be established.

The CSA recommended the SBE use the percentile ranks it approved in 2016 to once again set the 2017 cut scores. These percentile ranks will remain consistent for 2017; only the numerical value of the cut score will change.

This would mean that in 2018 and after, the 2017 cuts scores will continue to be used for grade assignment.

“Without the new baseline, the accountability results that would have been produced would reflect the unexpected and unrealistic circumstance where results declined, despite other components improving and increases in proficiency across the state,” Domaleski said. “With the exception of growth, all components of the accountability system are performing as expected.”