Accountability grades approved for most, but not all Mississippi schools

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After delaying the decision for a month, state education officials put the stamp of approval on most district and school grades for the previous school year.

Last month the State Board of Education voted to delay approval of statewide accountability ratings so members had more time to examine grades. After about 30 minutes of discussion, the board officially approved them Thursday, with the exception of four schools and one school district.

“The SBE will consider grades at its November 8 meeting for the Mississippi School for the Deaf, the Mississippi School for the Blind, the Harrison County Child Development Center, the Pascagoula-Gautier School District’s Exceptional School and the Corinth School District after learning more about the provision in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that requires all schools and districts receive grades,” reads a news release from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Last month, Corinth took MDE to court seeking to stop the release of the ratings, arguing that the grade assigned to the district was fundamentally unfair. This district has been uniquely affected by changes in federal regulations in a way that other school districts have not because of its classification as a “District of Innovation.”

During Thursday’s meeting, State Board of Education chair Jason Dean proposed that Corinth and the four other schools not be voted on until the board has had a chance to explain their interpretation of the federal guidelines to the state’s accreditation commission.

Joseph Runnels, the assistant attorney general representing the board today, advised to the SBE that this avenue would not be lawful.

Instead, the board voted to hold off voting on those schools and Corinth School District until next month when at the Nov. 8 meeting, the Mississippi Department of Education will make a presentation about what the implications are of changes in the federal regulations.

“We’re still resolving with Corinth how we’re going to hear what their concerns are,” Dean said after the meeting. “We’ve got to spend the next couple of weeks figuring out what that looks like.” 

School districts and their respective schools receive annual A-F ratings each fall as a way to measure student proficiency and progress. The state has tweaked this model from year to year, which board member Johnny Franklin said last month prompted concerned emails from the public which factored into his request to delay approving the scores until now.

This year 18 districts received an A, 42 were rated B, 38 were a C, 28 were a D, and 23 districts were an F.

The ratings show several districts are eligible to join the state-run Achievement School District, which state officials optimistically estimate will be up-and-running by the next school year. One of the criteria for placement is districts with 50 percent or more of their schools rated F. The eligible districts are:

• Amite County School District

• Clarksdale Municipal School District

• Coffeeville School District

• East Tallahatchie Consolidated School District

• Jefferson County School District

• Humphreys County School District

• Philadelphia Public School District

• Durant Public School District

• Holly Springs School District

• Jefferson County School District

• West Bolivar Consolidated School District

The Sunflower County Consolidated, Holmes County, Humphreys, Noxubee and the Jackson Public school districts are also eligible for another form of state intervention, the District of Transformation. The State Board can ask the governor to declare a state of emergency to take over a district which has received two consecutive F’s and place it into this model where the state board replaces the local school board, and the superintendent is replaced with an interim leader who remains in place until the district earns a C grade or higher for five years.

Noxubee was placed in this model earlier this year. The Jackson Public School District almost faced this fate last fall, but instead Gov. Phil Bryant announced a partnership between his office, the City of Jackson, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to improve the district.

In September, the Charter Authorizer Board voted to delay approving two new charter schools until they could see how the other existing ones fared with this year’s accountability results.

ReImagine Prep Charter School went from a D to a C this year. Smilow Prep Charter School received its second D in a row and Midtown Public Charter School maintained its F grade from the previous academic year to this one.

“This year’s charter school accountability ratings reflect that for the first time, a charter school in Mississippi achieved a ‘successful’ C rating. We congratulate ReImagine Prep on this significant achievement,” wrote Krystal Cormack, Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board chair in a statement. “Our other charter schools … Smilow Prep and Midtown Charter School, will need to continue to make progress toward their goals.”

To watch the meeting in its entirety, click here.