This post is the first of a three-part series to explain the conversation about re-setting cut scores in Mississippi’s accountability system and to discuss the implication of doing so. This series is written in as plain a language as possible. This first part provides background information on the A-F grading system. The next two parts will discuss setting cut scores and the proposed changes.
Background on A-F
Mississippi schools and districts are annually rated using an A-F accountability system, just like children receive a grade A, B, C, D, or F on their report cards. This grade is based on several components, including
- Proficiency (the percent of students who meet or exceed grade-level standards in English and math in grades 3-8 and in English, math, science, and social studies in high school);
- Growth of All Students (the percent of students who grow one level in English or math or who maintain a proficient or advanced level);
- Growth of the Lowest 25% (the percent of the lowest 25% of students who grow one level in English or math);
- College Readiness (the percent of students who meet college readiness benchmarks on the ACT);
- Acceleration (the percent of students taking and passing college-level or career certification courses); and
- Graduation (the percent of students who graduate in four years).
Schools and districts earn points on each of these components. These points are totaled and then compared to a list of scores to determine the school or district’s grade. The number that a school or district must reach to receive a higher grade—626 points for a district to receive a “B,” for example—is often referred to as the cut score. 2015-2016 district cut scores are as follows:
|A||738 or above|
|B||626 or above but below 738|
|C||552 or above but below 626|
|D||470 or above but below 552|
When Mississippi adopted its A-F system in 2013-2014, it planned to phase in the system over three years by adding the Acceleration component in the final year (2015-2016). In those three years, Mississippi also changed its state test three times—first, we had MCT2, then PARCC, and finally MAP (now referred to as MAAP).
In 2014-2015, schools and districts were graded based on performance on the new PARCC test. The number of points schools could earn in the A-F system, though, did not change. Schools and districts could take a waiver if their grade dropped to retain a higher previous grade (either from 2012-2013 or 2013-2014). In 2015-2016, however, schools’ and districts’ new grades would “count” even if their grades worsened. 2015-2016 was also the year that the final component of the A-F system was used, increasing the number of points schools and districts could earn in the A-F system.
Because of the both the assessment and the final phase-in of the A-F system, the Mississippi Department of Education set new cut scores before the 2015-2016 grades were released in October 2016 to ensure that the system was fair. These cut scores were intended to remain the same for the next several school years so that schools and districts would always know their target. The current controversy is about whether these cut scores should change.
The next post will explain the process of setting cut scores.