Schools and districts received their ratings from the state on Thursday after a series of changes in the state tests and the way in which the state assigns them a grade.

While a majority of school districts received a C or higher, 19 received an F. This is the first year schools and districts haven’t been able to use a special waiver from the federal government allowing them to use a previous year’s higher grade because schools were transitioning to teaching a different set of standards linked to Common Core.

“First, the grade on average is a C – I think that’s a good starting point especially in light of the fact the state now has the highest standards of learning we’ve ever had and rigorous assessments to test those standards,” State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said Wednesday.

As to the charter schools’ score, Wright said it takes “more than one year to lift a school that is at that low (an attainment level) to a higher rate of attainment.”

She also noted that students came into the two charter schools, which served 5th and 6th graders last year, as many as three or four grade levels behind.

Mississippi students have taken a different test each year for the past three years, and this current school year is the first districts have an apples-to-apples comparison of scores.

Although Clinton School District’s unofficial (without the waiver) grade in 2014-2015 had dropped from an A to a C, the district regained its A status last year.

Assistant Superintendent Tim Martin said it was important for teachers to be familiar with the standards and the test. Although the Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) was given for the first time last school year, the MAP was more similar to the previous year’s test than those given earlier.

“So our teachers had a ballpark idea of using the (previous year’s) results to look at students’ strengths and weaknesses and to be able to tailor their teaching and instruction to maximize those strengths and minimize those weaknesses,” Martin explained.

The scores weren’t good news for those that now bear an F label, one being the largest urban district in the state, Jackson Public Schools.

School Board President Beneta Burt told media on Thursday the district is disappointed by the results and has set a board meeting on Oct. 28 to “evaluate the superintendent and our leadership team to discern what happened, and how the administration plans to improve student performance.”

Superintendent Cedrick Gray was absent from the press conference. Burt said Gray was working on finalizing the district’s plan for correcting deficiencies that led to its accreditation being downgraded to “probation” by the state.

“To go from a district with only 3.5 percent of its schools labeled F to 36.2 percent, is indeed significant and a number that is not acceptable,” Burt said.

In JPS, less than 20 percent of students are considered proficient in reading, while only 15.4 percent of its students are proficient in math. While students in JPS did advance from last year, they still have a long way to go, education officials say.

“The good news is they’re making progress toward the high water mark, but there is still a significant amount of progress that needs to be made for the individual students to be able to say that have a comprehensive understanding of the subject,” said J.P. Beaudoin, chief of research and development for the state education department.

Wright said the department is looking at each district that received an F to determine how to provide support but is unsure of the specifics at this point.

Support provided by the state department must be consistent with what ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) ultimately will require, Wright said, referring to the new federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. “Until those plans are formulated, I encourage schools and districts to disaggregate their data and develop targeted plans” for addressing weak areas.

Kate Royals

Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.