This week, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) made the 2017-2018 accountability scores public, after delaying the public release on September 20. Each year, Mississippi schools and districts are rated using an A-F scale, just like children receive a grade A, B, C, D, or F on a report card. To understand the accountability system we encourage you to read our past blog post titled, Understanding the Re-Setting of Cut Scores in Mississippi’s Accountability System, PART 1. According to the MDE press release:
- Twenty-nine districts increased their letter grades from the previous school year, and the number of schools earning an A rose from 114 in 2016-17 to 181 in 2017-18.
- Statewide, the number of districts earning an A increased from 15 in 2016-17 to 18 in 2017-18.
- Overall, students showed statistically significant gains in both ELA and Mathematics from 2016-17 to 2017-18.
Because charter schools are public schools, charter schools also receive a grade based on the same criteria.1 These grades are one of the most important transparency and accountability measures that charter schools face. If charter schools do not earn an A, B, C, or D, in their first four years of operation, they are not eligible to apply for renewal of their five-year charter contract. Charter schools with a “D” in the fourth year of operation are only eligible for renewal under special circumstances–and even then, they can only be renewed for an additional year. In other words, if charter schools do not succeed, they can and will be closed.
We have always known that founding and operating a school is extremely hard work. National data show that students who decide to transfer to charter schools are, on average, lower performing than the average student who does not transfer. This means that charter schools often serve a more vulnerable population than traditional public schools. Nonetheless, they are responsible for helping those students succeed. Other national research shows that charter school students who remain in charter schools for four years experience more growth than similarly-performing peers in traditional public schools.
This year’s grades represent the third year of performance for the two charter schools that have been open the longest–Reimagine Prep, which is a Republic School, and Midtown Charter School. Smilow Prep, Republic’s second school in Mississippi, is reporting second-year data this year.
While all of the charter schools that received grades this year have room to grow, we are now seeing strong evidence that at least one school–Reimagine Prep–is improving student performance in line with the national research on charter schools. Reimagine has grown from a D to very high C–just a few points shy of a B!–over the last three years. This movement represents real growth in student achievement, especially in math and science. At the end of the day, though, it is imperative that all public schools–including charter schools–in Mississippi are providing a high-quality choice for families.
The grades show that Midtown and Smilow Prep have their work cut out for them. Over the next year, both schools need to improve proficiency rates, which will also require higher growth scores. Had Smilow Prep improved its proficiency in reading, it would have likely improved overall as they showed movement in math and science. With Midtown now going into its fourth year of operation, this is make-or-break time for them. They must improve to a “D” by this time next year or face the possibility that they will not be eligible for renewal.
|Midtown Public Charter School||F||F||F||TBD|
|Clarksdale Collegiate||N/A||N/A||N/A||First year of operation|
|Smilow Collegiate||N/A||N/A||N/A||First year of operation|
At Mississippi First, we believe that high-quality public charter schools should be a part of our state’s public education reform strategy. We will continue to support policies and practices that strengthen the charter sector as well as all public schools.
1 Charter schools in Mississippi are considered both schools and districts. The reason for this is because federal law vests responsibility for special education services in school districts, not schools, so to ensure that charter schools have responsibility for providing special education, they must also be considered districts. All of the charter schools that were in operation last year (and thus received a grade this week) are middle schools, which the accountability system classifies as “700 point schools.” That means that while each charter school is considered a school district, the “points” the charter schools earned must be compared to the 700-point scale used for schools without a 12th grade, not the 1,000-point scale for traditional public school districts. The charter schools’ “points” cannot be converted to the 1,000-point scale because the two scales are not comparable. This is why there are two different scales for 700-point and 1,000-point schools and why charter schools look like they have the lowest points of all the school districts.