Three Jackson elementary schools received the state's highest rating according to new data released this morning by the Mississippi Department of Education. Those elementary schools, Power APAC, Davis Magnet and McWillie, received "Star School" ratings, the highest possible under the new state accountability system. All three schools are home to special programs or curricula: Power APAC houses a performing arts program, Davis Magnet offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, and McWillie offers Montessori instruction.
Four other Jackson elementary schoolsCasey, Clausell, George and Watkinsreceived the second-highest rank, "High Performing."
Overall, the Jackson Public Schools District received an "Academic Watch" rating, and the district fell in the middle of the pack among Mississippi districts for measures of academic achievement and high school graduation.
This is the first year MDE has used the ratings system, which replaces an older model that ranked schools and districts on a numerical scale from Level 1 to Level 5.
Under the old accountability system, schools could reach Level 5 status, the highest level, by outperforming other schools in the state, while still falling below national standards. This insularity was a frequent target of criticism for education-reform advocates, who harped on state test data that regularly showed over 80 percent of third-graders scoring proficient or advanced in reading, when only 40 percent scored similarly on national tests.
The new model uses data from the state's standardized tests, which MDE revised in 2007, making them more difficult and aligning them more closely with national standards. The new model also ranks schools and districts on three different scales: achievement, growth and graduation rate.
The achievement scale, called the Quality Distribution Index or QDI, measures the percentage of a school's students scoring basic, proficient or advanced on state tests, with greater weight given to higher scores.
The addition of a growth measure to the state rankings means that even schools with many high-scoring students must show year-to-year improvement. Murrah High School, which often leads among Jackson high schools, received an "Academic Watch" ranking despite its relatively high QDI because it did not meet growth targets.
JPS ranked 62nd out of the state's 152 school districts in graduation rate and 67th in QDI. Like JPS, the Hinds County School District also received an "Academic Watch" rating, although its QDI and high school completion scores were slightly higher. The Madison County, Rankin County and Clinton school districts all received the "High Performing" designation.
"Now that we are more familiar with the new curriculum and state assessment, we can be more focused on the work required to increase student achievement under this system," JPS Superintendent Lonnie Edwards said in a statement.
Twenty-six Jackson schools received a "Successful" rating or better, and Edwards noted that many of the others compared favorably with districts around the state: "Many of the schools that did not reach 'Successful' and received the status of 'Academic Watch' are still reaching the state average or better."
Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents' Campaign, called the system's nationally aligned standards "a good thing for our children and a good thing for our state." She acknowledged the challenge that districts face in adjusting to the new rating system.
"The truth is that there are schools that are working very hard, and they're moving up the scale," Loome said. "Once we get accustomed to the labels and the new standards, and parents understand what those mean, I think it will be easier for schools to get across to parents what progress they're making."