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Lawmakers Say School Board Inflating Performance

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 23 Aug 2012 05:52pm | comments
The Mississippi legislature is asking the Education Department to explain why they removed graduation requirements from the school accountability system. Photo by James Almond via Flickr.

Lawmakers are pressuring the Mississippi Department of Education to strengthen its accountability measures.  A hearing called by joint House and Senate Education Committees yesterday came after the school board decided to drop graduation requirements for its top performing school districts.  The legislature may take away the school boards freedom to make such moves in the future.

Schools used to need a better than average graduation rate to be labeled A or B - an above-average rate for an above-average score. This year, that requirement was removed, allowing more schools to rise to the top.

Legislators are concerned the new policy will inflate school grades. Republican Representative Randy Boyd repeatedly asked the Department of Education to explain their decision.

"Is this not lowering the standards instead of raising the standards?" asks Boyd. "We saw in the Florida model that they are continually raising the standards. This to me seems like we are backing up."

"Well, the goal behind this decision was to have a better accountability model that was equitable across all schools," says Dr. Paula Vanderford, who heads up accountability at MDE.

Vanderford bore the brunt of the grilling. Vanderford says the board removed the requirement because it only applied to top performing schools. The Accountability Task Force established by the legislature wants a year to examine the issue so they can factor in graduation rates to all schools' letter grades.

But Republican Senator Gray Tollison said the Department probably didn't need to remove the requirement while it is still in the process of examining reform.  And, he says, after the next legislative session, he hopes the ambiguity will be gone.

"In the statute it says it is a discretionary – they may use graduation rates and they may use dropout rates," says Tollison.  He says next session he and his colleagues will look at changing the law, replacing "may" with "shall."

The legislature also requested a list of the school districts that moved up a grade because of this decision. The Department of Education has pushed back the release of this information until next week.

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The Mississippi legislature is asking the Education Department to explain why they removed graduation requirements from the school accountability system. Photo by James Almond via Flickr.


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