The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The results of the Missouri School Improvement Plan (MSIP) 6 have just been released, and they landed with a shrug. MSIP 6 is the accountability system adopted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the state board of education to rate school districts (and to a much lesser extent schools) and to signal which are performing well and which are not. This author has routinely criticized MSIP 6 and its predecessor, MSIP 5, because they’re complicated and they’re only loosely related to academic performance.
Under MSIP 5, the average district received 96 percent of total possible MSIP points. MSIP 6, to be fair, has a more reasonable distribution. About one fifth of districts did not get the necessary 70 percent of their possible points, making them technically eligible for non-accreditation. Not to worry though – these scores won’t be used to actually rate districts for another year.
Another good aspect of MSIP 6 is that student academic growth actually counts. Under prior MSIPs, it only served as extra credit. Tracking academic growth is critical for students who come to school far behind their peers. It measures if and how quickly they are catching up to grade level. So, while we only have growth scores for students in grades 3–8 and the reporting is a little difficult to understand, at least it counts.
Now for the bad. Academic measures—both for percentages of students scoring on grade level in reading, math, science, and social studies and for student academic growth in reading and math—still only count for less than half of the points. Districts (unfortunately) still have a variety of ways to achieve the maximum points possible, with the highest score being 180. Academic testing is worth a maximum of 48 points for getting students to grade level and 36 points for growth. But having a school improvement plan is worth 30 points and giving a school culture and climate survey is worth 4. How many districts got all 34 of those points? All of them. Graduation rates—which can be gamed—are worth 20 points. How many districts got all 20 points? The answer is 422 out 553.
And, finally, the ugly. The ugly is the MSIP 6 APR report. The APR report assigns districts a number that represents the percentage of possible points earned. The total possible points varies from 152 to 180. How does this help sort out what a district is getting right or wrong? Why does the title have two acronyms? Why can’t districts simply be given letter grades, which all of us understand? Why don’t we have ratings for schools, as well as districts? While we’re trying to figure out what the scores mean, why don’t we ask our leaders for something we can all understand?