Schools want to see stars
MSDE ratings didn’t give credit where credit was due, board member says
There’s a chance that the St. Mary’s public schools’ star ratings don’t necessarily reflect what is happening at each school site.
After the Maryland State Department of Education released the star ratings online earlier this month, St. Mary’s school administrators are now sifting through how points were awarded or deducted in categories like chronic absenteeism and other factors used for the rating, as discussed at the Dec. 12 school board meeting.
Five of St. Mary’s public schools earned five out a possible five stars, four sites
earned three and the rest earned four stars. The ratings are based on an accountability metric put together over the last 18 months by MSDE. The metric is the state department’s answer to requirements posed by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in late 2015.
Alex Jaffurs, St. Mary’s public schools’ assessment and accountability officer, said school staff can now petition for more points. “Things get lost in translation,” he said, adding that “how we do things locally may not be interpreted up at state like we would like them to, that’s where we can haggle for more points.”
Superintendent Scott Smith said “we don’t horse-trade for points, but we do make sure we get credit for what we are really doing with kids.”
Karin Bailey, school board chairwoman, said “MSDE did not give us credit for things we had … because they didn’t understand what we were doing or what we submitted or [it] was classified wrong.
“Our county fared pretty well, but I’m sure there are some that didn’t and now they’re going to have to fight that perception going forward,” Bailey said.
She said “there was such focus on this from Realtors, from politicians, from parents” and others to compare schools without having “a complete accurate picture, [and] I think that is extremely disappointing.”
Some factors, like a student and staff climate survey, were not included in the star ratings this year.
Smith said school staff sent at the end of the school year all of the information “in a massive file,” and then MSDE had to parse out the data to fit accountability requirements, and then “spits out a number at the end.” Scores are then evaluated by school staff “to see whether or not we got the credit we should have.”
Smith said classes offering “computational thinking,” one of the factors
used for middle school rankings, are not a required MSDE core content curriculum standard. “All other courses are tracked back to very specific content standards,” he said.
Lisa Bachner, St. Mary’s public schools’ supervisor of curriculum and instruction, said staff are working with MSDE representatives to determine what classes qualify as computational thinking.
Jaffurs told school board members there were two ways to earn points, either by “percent of a whole” similar to The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test scores or “assigned scores,” which are points delegated based on standards or intervals.
Points are assigned for items like growth in English and math, low chronic absenteeism and whether schools provide a well-rounded curriculum. Factors that were awarded based on actual points earned include PARCC scores, graduation rates, English language proficiency and others.
“Most schools in the state do offer well-round-
ed curriculum … but some do it better than others,” Jaffurs said.
Smith said the way points are earned with a “percent of a whole” strategy is more straightforward, where points are based on an actual score. With “assigned points,” a score is compared to others in the state and then ranked as MSDE sees fit.
“If 85 percent of your kids are not chronically absent, then you would assume you’d get 11 or 12 points out of the 15,” he said.
He said rather than giving full points to a school system on a rating factor, state representatives compared all points earned across the state and gave scores they thought were appropriate.
Despite having approximately 85 percent of students not being chronically absent, St. Mary’s public schools got “what Maryland determined the quintile most appropriate, so they gave us six points,” he said.
“It’s a data manipulation on top of a data manipulation,” Smith said, adding, “it’s their distilling data to present the story they want to present.”
With assigned scores,
“you’re not truly reflecting the data,” the superintendent said.
“So much for transparency,” Allen said.
Smith said the previous threshold for a student to be considered chronically absent was if they missed about 25 days or more of an academic year. He said the current threshold is students who miss 10 percent or more of school days, “and doesn’t take into account why you might be absent” for
Smith said at the meeting he’s yet to get answers about why schools are awarded assigned points for any of the factors “other than they wanted to award credit the way they wanted to award credit.”
Jaffurs advised that school staff “can’t rest on our laurels” and should continue to improve ratings where possible.
“We have more of a holistic measure here” Jaffurs said, adding that be- fore the star ratings came out “we would just have the PARCC scores.” He said other information, like a culture and climate survey “coupled with graduation rates, PARCC [scores] and chronic absenteeism,” make up the rating each St. Mary’s school earned.
See http://reportcard. msde.maryland.gov for more information about St. Mary’s schools star ratings.