Remain Calm and Focus | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Remain Calm and Focus

Editor's note: This piece was submitted before the PARCC assessment results were released. To see the results, visit mde.k12.ms.us.

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Cedrick Gray Trip Burns/File Photo

I want to share some thoughts and insights about the concept of assessment and why we should remain calm and focus as we anxiously await the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers to release the results of the most recent administration of statewide tests for students in grades three through 12.
 Interestingly, my insights were confirmed as I reviewed an article that colleague and former school superintendent, Raymond Yeagley, wrote in a June 2015 edition of School Administrator entitled, "Shifting Assessments." In that article, Yeagley addresses the drop in performance when students are tested under new academic standards. He articulates five reasons to expect the predictable decline in test scores. I will lend to his review by asserting three reasons that we, in this community, should be encouraged even in the face of a probable drop in the percentage of our scholars scoring proficient and advanced on the state test.

Dr. Yeagley lists the following as reasons or factors that contribute to the probable drop in test performance:

New tests: With every new test comes a level of uncertainty and unfamiliarity with both the types of questions or items and the way students will react or respond to them.

New content on the test: The new standards and assessment are both more rigorous and much deeper in their scope. The most recent change in standards has been the most significant in nearly 30 years.

Higher expectations in preparation for college or careers: The new standards require and demand that the students fully understand the skill and the content. Students have the expectation to really know the standard and to be able to apply it to real-life situations.

Higher cut scores: Early tests were designed so that every student in the nation would know 100 percent of the materials by 2014. The score to achieve that was set low enough so that even the most struggling student could eventually reach it. The new state tests are designed to ensure that every student is college or career ready, period. That shifts the score upward to reflect being tested by a standard that will make sure our students don't have to take remedial courses in college and that they can find and keep a well-paying career.

New grading scales: Now comes the hard part—A new scale must be established to reflect the new test. The challenge is comparing the new scale to the old one.

Now, here are the three reasons we should all remain calm and focused.

First, Jackson Public Schools has developed a very aggressive but attainable, three-year strategic plan that will propel our scholars and schools forward academically. This includes strategies that will increase student proficiency in reading, mathematics, and science, increase the graduation rate and proficiency on the ACT, increase state accountability ratings for the district and schools, and increase parental and community engagement. Additional strategies will increase attendance for our scholars and staff, as well as the health and safety levels of our campuses.

Second, each school has developed a comprehensive plan of action that reflects its achievement of the research-based five characteristics of high performing schools. National improvement strategies and the five dimensions of success from the Mississippi Department of Education guide this plan. In it, each school provides the results of a needs assessment that its leadership teams conduct. The assessment identifies the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to improvement for the school. The primary goal is to ensure that all students, particularly underachieving ones, demonstrate proficient and advanced levels of achievement on the new Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards.

Third and finally, we have developed a system of monitoring and accountability. We monitor and hold accountable the achievement of our scholars and schools in two ways. First, we use a data dashboard that reports progress in attendance, behavior and course performance on a daily basis. This information is reported to me in a regularly scheduled meeting each month. I then present the progress to the school board each quarter. Secondly, the annual progress is tracked by our balanced scorecard, which is then reported through the district's annual report. Simply stated, we monitor our progress regularly and report it to our community so that we are all informed.

This time of transition in our state can be overwhelming without a precise plan of action. Jackson Public Schools has a plan and wants our community to know how important the progress of all of our scholars is to us. So we ask you to remain calm as we focus on the plan and build stronger schools together.

Cedrick Gray is the superintendent for Jackson Public Schools.

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