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Oxford, Lafayette schools retain A, B ratings

Oxford High School was one of 19 Mississippi’s school districts to achieve a top score on an A-through-F grading scale for the 2014-15 school year, according to long-delayed ratings released Thursday.

However, some of those A-rated districts — including Oxford — retained the highest grade because of a waiver that let all districts choose between the score they earned in 2015 or a higher one they had earned in one of the two previous years. The waiver was allowed because Mississippi has been switching its teaching standards and tests.

The state’s 2014-2015 Accountability Results show the Oxford School District scored 603 out of 900 total points on the 2014-2015 student assessments, making it an “A” school district with the No Child Left Behind waiver in place. However, the district would have received a “C” rating with the state’s new accountability model in place. Mississippi applied for and was granted a waiver for exemption from the No Child Left Behind requirement that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. No Child Left Behind places penalties on school districts that have students who are not 100 percent proficient in subject areas of state assessments.

“We are committed to preparing all students for success in college, and part of that work includes setting a high bar for academic guidelines and then measuring how students are doing,” said Oxford School District Superintendent Brian Harvey. “The scores released today set a new starting point. The state had to basically hit the reset button on what we expect our students to know and to be able to do. We expect a drop in performance, but as students continue to get used to the higher standards and tests, scores and performance labels will rise.”

Lafayette excited

Lafayette County School District retained the “B” grade it received last year, without the waiver.

“We are excited to keep our rating and not fall as so many did without the waiver; however, we are not proud of where we are,” said Superintendent Adam Pugh. “We are working to achieve an ‘A’ rating district wide. Our Upper Elementary moved from a ‘C’ to an ‘A,’ which we are elated about that accomplishment. We are always working to get better and will not stop working toward that ‘A’ rating goal. We want to be the top scoring district in the state. I truly believe we can achieve this goal.”

Schools will not get a waiver for the 2015-16 results, even though the state is switching tests again. Districts and schools that score an F on the 2015-16 tests could be taken over by a state achievement district if they flunk again the next year.

Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle said state officials are advising districts not to coast on their waiver grade, especially if the non-waiver grade is sharply lower.

“What the superintendent is telling districts is you need to pay attention to the non-waiver grade, because the grade is going to be similar for 2016 and it’s going to be lower,” Guilfoyle said.

The newly released ratings will have a short shelf life: State officials plan to release the 2015-16 ratings in October.

State education officials say that the score is a good forecast of what is to come with the Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) accountability numbers, which will be released in October. MAP — state tests or assessments in English language arts and mathematics for students in grades 3-8 and high school — is designed to measure student achievement on the Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards for English language arts and mathematics and to provide valid and reliable results to guide instruction through data-drive instruction. MAP will assess students in grades 3-8 in English language arts and mathematics, Algebra I and English II.

Meaningful feedback

Harvey said the new assessment asks students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills in areas such as critical thinking, analytical writing and problem solving.

“These tests provide meaningful feedback to our parents, teachers and students,” he said. “They let us all know where our students stand on their path to success. The state has raised standards to reflect college and career readiness in the 21st century. The tests will help parents know if a child is on a path to success.”

The 2015 results were delayed several months because the state had trouble getting usable data from PARCC. The state also had to conduct a special study before it could compare scores from the two different tests to determine if students’ achievement rose or fell.

The Associated Press and the Oxford School District Communications contributed to this report.