Interpretation of recent school scores needs perspective

Published 12:05 am Sunday, July 17, 2016

As a young educator, I heard U.S. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland) say that “Our children are the living messages we send to a future we may never see.” I was a little confused by the congressman’s declaration. It confused me because this message appeared to make little sense, but seemed intriguing. I spent more time pondering the quote, only to realize that it should be the mantra for every school in the world.

Congressman Cummings’ powerful, yet simplistic, quote was really challenging schools to meet the expectation that philosopher John Dewey purposed in 1931 when he challenged schools “to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.”

Public schools across the United States now have a means of determining if children are being prepared for the future. Federal legislation, Every Child Succeeds Act, mandates that schools expand educational opportunities and improve student outcomes.

Email newsletter signup

As the State of Mississippi has worked to quantify what this model will look like across the state, scores have been delayed. Just this week, the Mississippi Department of Education released data that graded the 156 school districts from across the state. While technical in nature, the results must be explained in a way that appropriately compares the Natchez Adams School District performance in a relative manner. Meaning, how did NASD perform when compared to the other 155 school districts across the state.

First, it is important to understand that the ratings released uses student achievement data from two years ago. The scores were first reported during the summer of 2015. However, MDE delayed the ratings because of some unforeseen issues with scoring of the tests. The 2015-2016 tests scores have not been released.

Second, there is talk about waivers. The waivers allow schools and districts to maintain their previous 2013-2014 school year scores if the 2014-2015 school year scores were to decrease. Of course, if the 2014-2015 scores were higher, then the district would be assigned the higher of the two grades.

The waivers do not give an accurate picture of how all schools and districts across the state actually performed. Without the waiver, the Mississippi Department of Education noted that there would only be one district with an A and one district would be rated as an F. MDE also noted that nine districts would receive a rating of B, 44 would receive a rating of C and 46 would receive a rating of D.

More specifically, 52 districts (including Natchez) remained the same, 83 districts decreased in performance and only 6 increased. If we dig into the data even more, we will see that 10 districts decreased from A to C, five districts decreased from B to D and one district fell from a C to F.

We will also find five traditionally high performing districts are performing at the same level as NASD. That’s not a knock on those districts. It’s an indication of the rigor that came along with the first year of Common Core testing during the 2014-2015 school year.

Now, the anxiousness will be the result from the 2015-2016 school year results. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told listeners during his “Mountaintop” speech that difficult days ahead can lead to a mountaintop experience. He was challenging people to continue to press on to be great.

But, the most inspiring message he left people with from that speech was that they would get to the “promised land.” While Dr. King was speaking in the spiritual context, the take away from this in the world of education is that NASD is headed in the right direction. NASD is truly preparing those living messages that they are sending to the future we may never see.

I believe that the “Natchez Story” will be even better when the 2015-2016 results are released later this summer. This did not happen by happenstance. It happened because of the purposeful work of every person who collective touched the life of a boy and girl.

And the even bigger take away is what Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde said, “We did it.” The entire NASD family deserves applause. Each of them stepped up to send their living message into a future that we may never see with the tools they will need to be successful.

Because my daughter was one of the living messages, I thank you.


Frederick Hill is the immediate past superintendent of the Natchez Adams School District.