JACKSON, Miss. (Clarion-Ledger) – The Mississippi Department of Education overstated progress in the state’s graduation rate and failed to maintain a dropout prevention office for the last 10 years as required by state law, according to state Auditor Shad White.
“MDE has a responsibility to follow the law, just like I do in my position and Mississippians do in their everyday lives,” White said in a statement. “The law says that there should have been an Office of Dropout Prevention performing certain functions to help districts increase the graduation rate. That office was not functioning and not performing its duties under the law.”
Additionally, the performance audit said MDE increased the graduation rate from 61% in 2006 to 85% by 2019, and MDE met this goal in part by changing how it calculates the graduation rate.
White said MDE changed the way graduation rates are calculated by no longer counting “repeaters,” or students who needed to repeat 12th grade. The change was also made without requesting an updated graduation rate goal from the Legislature. This change increased the MDE-published graduation rates by nearly 10% and misaligned MDE benchmarks with legislative intent, according to the state auditor.
But state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said the audit report made no mention of the MDE’s broader, updated strategy to improve student achievement and how it successfully raised student outcomes.
“This audit completely ignores the progress made in performance by schools, districts, and students across Mississippi,” Wright said in a statement. “This project was described as a performance audit, but there are no performance metrics included in the report.”
Wright said the audit cited MDE for not adhering to the 2006 law because it no longer operates a stand-alone dropout prevention office, disregarding the fact that the MDE’s Office of Secondary Education leads agency-wide dropout prevention efforts. Also, she said the state Legislature didn’t earmark any state funds for the dropout prevention office.
Since MDE adopted a strategic plan, the state’s graduation rate has increased to an all-time high of 85%, up from 74.5% in 2014, Wright said. She said MDE calculates four-year graduation rate based federal guidelines of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
“Given the tremendous progress Mississippi students, teachers and schools have made over the past six years, it is disheartening to read a report that focuses on outdated procedures that have not been effective,” Wright said. “The State Board of Education Strategic Plan has modernized the state’s approach to education, which has resulted in historic and sustained student achievement across Mississippi.
MDE released its response Thursday to the audit report, taking issue with much of the report’s conclusions.
In 2006, the Mississippi Legislature voted to create an Office of Dropout Prevention at MDE. The office created the Statewide Dropout Prevention Plan to meet its obligations under state law.
Auditors determined MDE has not employed an ODP director as required by law since 2009. Further, the MDE employees listed as being responsible for statewide dropout prevention were not aware a Statewide Dropout Prevention Plan existed.