State’s schools to face strict standards

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

JACKSON &045;&045; Rigorous standards Congress has mandated for schools throughout the nation could have many Mississippi schools on the path for sanctions in the years to come.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must have a system of accountability for their schools &045;&045; which Mississippi already has &045;&045; and assessments must be given to all schools to measure the progress made each year.

&uot;It is the right thing to do,&uot; Henry Johnson, state superintendent of education, said Friday at a press conference about the standards. &uot;For so long we have talked about how important schools are and for so long we have been willing to hide …this legislation will no longer allow that.&uot;

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Mississippi established its accountability standards in the 1999 and 2000 legislative sessions, setting up levels of achievement and growth each school and school district must meet.

However, the No Child Left Behind assessments are tough, and state education officials are worried many schools may not pass the adequate yearly progress, or AYP, standards this year.

Associate State Superintendent Susan Rucker said hundreds of schools might not meet the standards this year. But schools are not sanctioned through the federal standards until a school has failed to meet them in two consecutive years.

Rucker said problem areas must be determined this year so that schools can fill in the gaps.

In measuring the AYP, a school’s students are divided into nine suubgroups &045;&045; all students, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students, Asian students, black students, Hispanic students, native American students and white students &045;&045; but each must contain 40 students in the subgroup to be considered for a school or districts AYP.

Each state can chose the minimum number of students in each subgroup to consider.

But Steve Hebbler, senior assistant to the state superintendent, said Mississippi chose 40 to make sure any data collected would be statistically significant. Working with small numbers can prove to be inaccurate at times.

Two things are considered in the AYP. First, 95 percent of the students in each category must be tested, or that subgroup will automatically fail that AYP. Second, a certain percentage of the students in those subgroups must be proficient in the tested subject area to pass the AYP. If any subgroup fails an AYP, the school fails the AYP.

And, by 2014, schools are mandated by No Child Left Behind to have 100 percent of students at the proficiency level of reading and math.

Although the standards are stringent, Johnson said he welcomes the challenge and said everyone at the local level is &uot;up to the task.&uot;

&uot;But it is going to be tough and the early data may suggest things need to move significantly,&uot; Johnson said.

Mississippi schools can pass the state standards of growth and achievement and still fail the federal standards. To assess the whole school’s performance, Rucker gave the analogy of a football team. For example, imagine a football team wins a game by a significant amount of points. But, that team has a weakness, perhaps a bad punter. The team still won even though one part of the team is suffering.

If a school passes the state standards and is in high achievement and growth but one subgroup does not pass the AYP, causing the school to fail it, that does not mean the school is bad. Like with a football team with a bad punter, the school would then need to concentrate on making the failing group better.

But Mississippi does have what Johnson calls an &uot;emerging success story.&uot;

The state is a leader in complying with No Child Left Behind because its standards match those of the federal legislation. Mississippi was one of the first states to get approval of its assessments and accountability standards, and Johnson said other state education officials and those at the national department of education have noticed.

&uot;Isn’t it great that Mississippi is leading the nation in some things?&uot; Johnson asked. &uot;We’ve got so far to go in this state to get where we want to be …need to be.&uot;

And although Johnson is worried the pretty picture may be dampened by the yearly progress reports, he said, &uot;I’m excited about this journey.&uot;