As anyone who has ever had more than a five second conversation with me regarding the purpose of assessment in our schools knows, it is my whole-hearted belief that it should be growth-oriented and used for formative purposes. For all of the somewhat scattered nature of our accountability model in Mississippi, one of its strengths is the weight it puts upon growth in student achievement. Without getting too deep into a different topic, I would also say that one of the primary faults of the accountability model is that the growth it focuses upon is too heavily weighted on the “bottom quartile” (the bottom 25% of test-takers in the current school year based upon their scores from the previous year in language arts or mathematics) and leaves science, as well as U.S. History, standing alone without a needed means to determine growth. But, I will save that topic for another day. Today, I am simply referencing that growth in performance of individual students from year to year, whether the bottom quartile or the whole, is an extremely large element of the accountability model which determines the school and school district’s accountability level and letter grade (A-F). Yes, growth in language arts and mathematics is extremely significant and vitally important. As mentioned earlier, performance on science (5th, 8th, and Biology I) and U.S. History assessments are also key factors in determining how well our districts and individual schools are performing. This begs the question then, why does the Mississippi Department of Education not make any of this information (English/language arts growth, mathematics growth, Biology I scores, or U.S. History scores) available to the public at all from the data for the previous year? With all of the fanfare and publicity that is given when MAAP language arts and mathematics achievement scores come out for the state and with the subsequent very public publishing of those results for each school and district, what happened to the growth and scores in these other subjects which make up a much larger portion of the grade designation with which each school and district will be labeled?
If my first paragraph was a little too wordy, I will attempt to simplify the point I am trying to make. Mississippi looks at many factors to determine the points a school or district has earned in order to rise to a higher letter grade level (A-F). The heaviest factor is growth of students in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics scores from the previous year. Another factor is 5th/8th grade science and Biology I assessment performance levels. Yet another factor are U.S. History assessment performance levels. However, last year the state did not make readily available to the public the growth data by grade and subject for each school or district for public view. Likewise, there was never posted any data as to the performance level results for the end of year assessments in Biology or U.S. History. The performance level results were posted last year for 5th/8th grade science, albeit in November (while the performance level data for language arts and math was posted in August).
Now, through much work and digging one was able to determine how much total growth was obtained in each broad category (bottom quartile ELA, bottom quartile math, overall ELA, overall math) by getting the information from the media file released at the same time as school letter grades. The same method could be used to determine the overall (combined 5th/8th science & Biology I) Level 3 or 4 percentages for the school or district. But, this could only be obtained by careful, patient digging through the file by someone with odd hobbies (like myself). Even through such intensive digging, as near as I can tell, there was no data ever released to determine how students did on the Fall end-of-year performance levels on the Biology I or U.S. History assessments. Why not?
In closing, if we truly desire public involvement and understanding in our school accountability, the public must have the information available in a detailed understandable manner. Mississippi does this for ELA and mathematics MAAP performance level data already. For last year and up until this point in our present year, the state has not produced this type of detailed data for ELA growth, math growth, Biology I end of year performance levels, or U.S. History end of year performance levels for all schools. Last year, we were given the results eventually for Biology I (only from the 1st semester), U.S. History (only from the 1st semester), and 5th/8th science. The public should be able to view ELA and math growth data in detail by subject and grade level, just as they are able to view ELA and math achievement level results. The public should be able to view the complete results for the year for Biology I and U.S. History assessment performance levels, as they are able to view ELA and math. Without consistently providing this type of data to the public, how can we really expect them to understand the letter grades we are assigning to our districts and schools? How too, can we expect the public to know where performance was in need of praise within our schools or where there might be room for improvement without this type of complete data? If the purpose of our accountability model is truly to encourage improvements in the instruction of our students and growth of student achievement, how can these goals be reached without this type of complete data? I hope this year, we will be able to view the information needed to provide this type of complete picture.