Students prepare for the 'third grade reading gate' in the Jefferson County School District on June 17, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Only 12% of school districts in the state received D or F grades according to data released by the Department of Education on Tuesday, though officials warn the pandemic played a role in schools’ improved letter ratings. 

The Mississippi Department of Education annually assesses schools and districts based on state test performance, student growth from year to year, and graduation rates. However, due to pandemic disruptions, schools have not received new grades since 2019. Assessments did not occur in the spring of 2020, and while tests were administered in 2021, no accountability grades were given for student performance. 

Many schools and districts saw significant improvement in their accountability score from 2019, but the education officials cautioned against year-to-year comparisons because of the impact of the pandemic on the data. 

State test performance decreased significantly in 2021, so when test scores returned to more normal levels this year, schools saw significant year-over-year growth. Since growth is a key metric used to assign schools grades, it is possible that many districts and schools saw increased overall grades because of that growth. 

“Because the accountability system relies heavily on growth, it may be challenging for some schools and districts to maintain grades (in the future) that improved considerably in 2021-22 ,” said Interim State Superintendent of Education Kim Benton. 

Benton also pointed out that the graduation requirements were waived for students to pass some state tests in 2020 and 2021 and graduation rates were positively impacted. This trend will continue until all students who took those courses during the pandemic have graduated. 

“We will likely see some variability in A-F grades over the next few years as the pandemic disruptions work their way out of our accountability system,” she said. 

Superintendents expected this outcome, and many told Mississippi Today in March that accountability results should be taken “with a grain of salt” because of the pandemic disruptions. They said they hoped community members would be understanding as grades fluctuated and these disruptions worked their way out of the system.

While pandemic-related growth and waivers affected school grades, a quarter of all districts have increased reading and math proficiency since 2019. 

The ten highest rated districts for the 2021-22 school year are: 

  • Long Beach School District
  • Clinton School District
  • Ocean Springs School District
  • Union County School District
  • Petal School District
  • Madison County School District
  • New Albany Public School District
  • Enterprise School District
  • Pass Christian Public School District
  • Rankin County School District

The results will be officially certified when they are presented to the State Board of Education on Thursday. They will then be available for public review on the Mississippi Succeeds Report Card portal. 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.