Accountability ratings brought positive results for many school districts. Credit: Pixabay

After multiple requests to deny a Delta school district’s appeal for accountability grade changes, the Mississippi State Board of Education reversed the original decision and granted the North Bolivar schools’ request to change its accountability rating from an F to a D at Thursday’s board meeting.

I’m elated that’s the board’s decision. I think it was the right decision. It recognizes the work that the students and teachers and administrators did,” said Maurice Smith, superintendent of North Bolivar Consolidated School District. 

The internal review committee recommended that the state Board of Education deny North Bolivar Consolidated School District’s request to bump up its graduation rate to 80 percent which would also improve its accountability rating.

Attempts to pass the motion failed, as board members presented differing views.

Board member John Kelly acknowledged that North Bolivar’s graduation rate and proficiency rate didn’t match. He wondered if other school districts who submitted appeals should get a grade change too.

Others inquired if current policy should be revisited.

“If our policy is such that it gives the board heartburn, then we need to change the policy. But if we’re going to be wishy-washy, then what do our policies mean on anything?” board member Rosemary Aultman said.

But, after 15 minutes of dialogue, the board agreed to vote in favor of the North Bolivar district.

The district appealed its accountability grade at an October state Board of Education meeting. Smith said the district was being penalized for a coding error involving school graduation rates that dropped the district’s accountability rating from a D to an F.

The district consolidated John F. Kennedy High School in Mound Bayou and Broad Street High School in Shelby into one new school that serves grades 7-12 in August 2018. All students go to school in Broad Street’s building, but the school is now called Northside High School.

Prior to the consolidation, John F. Kennedy’s graduation rate was 82.5 percent and Broad Street’s graduation rate was 77.5 percent. For the 2018-19 academic year, the school district’s graduation rate was the average of those two high schools: 80 percent. The newly consolidated Northside High School’s graduation rate was 77.5 percent.

Smith told the board this discrepancy in graduation rates was not an accurate reflection, but state officials said the district was trying to manipulate accountability scores.

The high school level received the lower graduation rate because the district did not correctly request a new school code to include the students from both schools. Since the consolidation moved all students to Broad Street’s building, the district received the graduation rate for Broad Street’s school code. Smith said he followed what he thought were MDE’s instructions to ensure that the student performance from both schools would contribute to a combined graduation rate.

The state board returned the issue to the Commission on School Accreditation, which originally denied the district’s appeal. The commission took the issue up again in a November meeting and voted once more to deny the appeal, which moved it back to the state board for a final decision.

Contributing: Kelsey Davis

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.