As school bells sound for a new school year, many districts in Mississippi will be striving for a favorable rating in the state's accountability model. In order to reach the top two classifications, graduation rates come into play and they must be of a high percentage. That requirement however, was recently removed by the State Board of Education.
"If you go back several years, the dropout data maintained by schools was not very well done," board chairman Wayne Gann says.
Because of that, Gann says districts in the top two classifications, star and high performing, were being penalized. Gann says the board removed the requirement as a recommendation from a task force set up to evaluate the current system.
"If we're going to count it, we need to come up with a more scientific way to count it and make it impact any school district that does not conform," he says.
With the board's decision, for just one year, those graduation and dropout rates will still be reported as usual, but they won't apply to a school's rating. The hope Gann says, is to come up with a better method, but not everyone agrees with the decision. Executive director of Mississippi First, Rachel Canter, says it's a mistake and threatens the goal of the K through 12 system.
"It sends a message that graduation rates are not important and we know the absolute last thing we want to do is tell students and families that graduation from high school doesn't not matter to the state," Canter says.
Other critics say the change will lower the bar at a time when state leaders are trying to reform education. Gann says that's not the case. Once the year period is up, the board can reinstate the requirement with a new approach.
"We're not trying to lower standards," Cann explains. "We're trying to improve the accountability model but it needs to be fair."
Canter agrees graduation rates should be included in all district ratings, but getting rid of it is not the way to start.
"Even though the state board has said their trying to hold those schools harmless, my question has been who is really being held harmless in situation," she asks. "It's certainly not the students."
Starting this fall, school districts will be rated with an 'A' thourgh 'F' rating, rather than the current seven tiered system. By not including graduation rates, some say that could push lower graded schools into a higher category.