- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Nineteen of Mississippi’s 146 school districts achieved the 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 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.

Three districts - Corinth, Lamar County and Petal - had an A for 2015 and for the waiver score.

“Our superintendents have worked diligently to implement higher learning goals in their districts, and the teachers and administrators should be commended for their hard work as evidenced by Mississippi’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said in a news release. “The waiver has enabled them to continue this important work without having to worry about being sanctioned if their test scores dropped during the transition period.”

Scores usually dip in the first year of a test. Many schools may carry a rating based on test scores of some students who left after the 2012-13 school year.

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 to pay attention to the non-waiver grade, because it may be similar for 2016,” Guilfoyle said.

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

The 2014-15 results will be the only ones calculated using tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Mississippi dropped out of that multistate consortium under pressure from superintendents who disliked how long the tests took to give, plus from conservatives who opposed the state’s use of Common Core-linked academic standards. The state kept a slightly-amended version of the standards, but changed in the 2015-2016 school year to a new test called the Mississippi Assessment of Progress written by a different company.

The MAP test is supposed to measure the same things as the PARCC tests and be scored similarly. However, the state has yet to set score levels.

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.

Guilfoyle said state officials further delayed the release because districts needed to check results and appeal any problems. She said that process was pushed back until after the state tests were administered in the spring.

“All that would have taken place during the MAP test, and that was too much for most districts,” Guilfoyle said.

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