Data Shows Improvement in State School Districts
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Five times more Mississippi schools districts earned a grade of 'A' compared to the previous school year and that's according to data being released today.   A change in the formula pushed many of the schools over the hump.

For the 2012-2013 school year, 18 Mississippi school districts earned a top letter grade of 'A.'

That's compared to just three for the previous year.

The State Director of Accountability Pat Ross says one reason for the jump is the inclusion of graduation rates as a positive in the formula after they were removed a year before.

"When the graduation rate was taken out, (they) paid more attention to it. When the graduation rate was re-entered they had done that work that helped them just enough to get over that hump and they increased to A-level districts because of that," Ross said.

Districts with graduation rates over 80% can count that toward their overall score....previously graduation rates would only hold a district back.

Nine districts that earned an 'A' would have been a 'B' without that bump.

One of those districts is Desoto County, which was able to count its 84-percent graduation rate toward its total score.

Superintendent Milton Kuykendall says the increased focus on graduation rates helps but so does increased efforts by teachers and students.

"I think out teachers are extremely dedicated to what they are doing and I think they motivated the kids. The kids worked hard. The teachers worked hard and that is what happened," Kuykendall.

The state also saw a decline in the number of 'F' rated districts from 20 to 15.

This is first year that there are more 'A' and 'B' than 'D' and 'F' districts.

Nancy Loome with the public school advocacy group The Parents Campaign says the improvement appears to be legitimate.

"Sometimes you hear focus question whether an 'A' district in Mississippi would be an 'A' district elsewhere, and I think the answer is absolutely yes," Loome said.

This year's accountability rating is especially important because schools will keep their grade over the next two years while the state implements the tougher Common Core tests and standards.