At Innova Preparatory School in Hattiesburg, smaller classes provide a learning environment where teachers have more one-on-one interactions with students. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Only 8% of Mississippi school districts got a D or F on this year’s accountability grades, an even smaller percentage than last year.

The grades, released Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Education, are the state’s annual assessment of school quality based on state test performance, student growth from year to year, and graduation rates. Schools and districts did not receive grades in 2020 or 2021 because of the disruptions of the pandemic, receiving post-COVID grades for the first time last year.  

The 2022 grades saw many schools and districts significantly improving their accountability score from 2019, but education officials cautioned against year-to-year comparisons because of the impact of the pandemic on the data, making it possible that those improvements wouldn’t hold. 

Instead, most scores have remained the same or continued to improve, with even more districts moving up to the A or B categories. 

State law requires the cut scores for each letter grade to be raised when 65% of schools or districts are rated A or B, a benchmark the state hit for the first time this year. MDE officials said they will be looking into this in the coming months.

“I’m proud to say that Mississippi has resumed its momentum from before the pandemic,” said Raymond Morgigno, interim state superintendent of education. 

Morgigno said he was pleased to see proficiency on the state tests met pre-pandemic levels and was proud that schools were largely able to maintain their high growth scores. 

“Honestly we were a little concerned last year when we had such strong results, we thought that would be the COVID bump with some of our growth, but yet our schools maintained that,” he said. “So we were really proud to see, especially in our elementary schools, that they just continued to move forward.” 

Morgigno also said there were still a few lingering impacts of COVID testing waivers in this year’s data. MDE officials said they expect next year's accountability data to be the last year with any of those lingering impacts.

School districts have also received a significant cash infusion from the federal pandemic recovery funds, which have allowed them to invest in technology, tutoring programs, additional staff members and some building renovations. These funds are set to expire in the fall of 2024. 

READ MORE: How three Mississippi school districts are spending $207 million in federal relief funds

Morgigno expressed some concern that school performance will be impacted by the loss of those additional funds but said the state will not be lowering its standards. 

“We never want to get in the game of making excuses,” he said. “I think success breeds success and I don’t see anyone lowering their standards, we just may have to roll up our sleeves and work a little harder, but that’s kind of what we do here in Mississippi.” 

Accountability reports for each district will be available 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.