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State school official on performance levels

By By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer
June 2, 2003
Susan Rucker has been the associate state superintendent of school improvement and innovation for five years. During that time, she has worked closely to develop a new way to rate not just school districts but individual schools.
These accreditation levels will be assigned to Meridian and Lauderdale county schools for the first time this fall.
They will be determined by two factors: 1) scores from the Mississippi Curriculum Test, a standardized test given to students in the second through the eighth grade in May; and 2) how much improvement each school shows over the previous year.
Each school will be rated on a 1-5 scale, with five being the highest-performing and one being the lowest-performing.
Rucker discussed the levels and what they mean during a meeting with The Meridian Star Editorial Board.
The Meridian Star: Give us the background on how the Mississippi Student Achievement Act came to be, and what it means.
Susan Rucker: The Mississippi Student Achievement Act was passed in the 1999 legislative session. It said that (the state) would have a performance-based accreditation system and that it would rate schools.
Senate Bill 2488 was then passed in the 2000 session and it says (the state) will name schools based on performance and growth and that it will have classifications.
They named in the law three separate classifications: Superior-performing, Exemplary-Performing and Priority Schools. So, the state department was challenged with putting together a performance-based accreditation system using those categories.
They asked us to put together a system. We then decided to have five levels. We added a "Successful" school and we also added a "Low-Performing school." There are different levels so that there is room for all school districts to move as far as they can grow.
If there were only three levels, a school would have so far to grow.
The Star: So the five levels give a Priority School a chance to show improvement over a one-year period?
Rucker: It does. It also allows a Low-Performing school room to get to Successful. The whole system was set up so that we could look at individual schools and not districts. We would also look at the students in that school and rate the school based on the students.
The Star: How closely do these align with the old accreditation levels, because that was also based on a five-point scale. Is it parallel?
Rucker: It's not parallel because the old system was set up on one certain standard or bar. You would set an achievement bar and everyone would have to pass the bar to be a certain level.
Now, the test requires that teachers teach a curriculum and test the children on what they taught them. Did students learn what they were supposed to learn in a year?
That is how we get a school performance level, by the percentage of kids at each level. The other half deals with growth. How far did the students grow? Did they grow one year's worth?
The Star: How does a school improve its rating?
Rucker: If some students are very low performing students … Let's say they came to (a school) two or three years behind. If they grew at least one year in a year, the school would never be in the bottom category, it would always be deemed Successful.
You cannot expect the impossible. That's what the old system did. You could have teachers help students grow two years and they were still in the Low-Performing level because they didn't pass the bar. This system rewards for growth plus achievement.
The Star: So is this the reason it has taken a couple of years to put new accreditation standards into effect?
Rucker: We had make sure we worked with districts so they could understand how we do those calculations. Because in order to measure how far a student had grown, there had to be a test in place to get baseline data. We did that last year, so this year you are able to see the growth. That's why we didn't put it into place last year.
The Star: How is the district-wide accreditation level set?
Rucker: The district-wide is only on process standards. That means, how many teachers does a school have, are they certified, does it have a principal, does it offer enough minutes in the day, etc. It is not based on student performance.
The Star: What are the levels for districts?
Rucker: There are three levels: accredited, advised or withdrawn. There is a newly proposed area called probationary, and I feel like that one will be added when the commission on accreditation completes their work. We will know in June, but the fourth one will probably be added.