In 2006 state law required the department of education to create a Dropout Prevention Office. The purpose was to provide resources to help local school districts increase their graduation rate -- thereby improving the rate for the entire state. The graduation rate then was 61% and lawmakers asked the department to improve to 85% by 2019.
Darein Spann with the Mississippi Association of Educators says the goal was met.
“So the fact that there’s a high or an increase in the graduation rate shows that the Mississippi education system is producing or preparing kids to be successful and to be able to live in a global society,” said Spann.
However, State Auditor Shad White says the department’s progress was made in part by changing how it calculates the graduation rate -- by no longer counting students who needed to repeat the 12th grade.
“By changing the way they calculated it, they gave themselves a boost of about 9.7 percentage points toward a higher graduation rate,” said White.
“And unfortunately for them, they also did not tell the legislature that they changed that method of calculation.”
In a statement, State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright says the audit completely ignores the progress made in performance by schools and disregards their agency-wide dropout prevention efforts.
Wright says those efforts increased the state’s graduation rate to an all-time high of 85%, up from 74.5% in 2014. She says the department’s graduation rate is based on federal guidelines.
Auditor White says MDE has a responsibility to follow the law and his office recommends the department continue the Dropout office and hire the staff needed.