State Auditor alleges Department of Education inflated graduation rates
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Quitman High School graduation.
Mississippi Department of Education

The Mississippi Department of Education is inflating its progress in the state's graduation rate and has failed to continue a dropout prevention office for the last 10 years as required by state law. That’s according to findings recently released by the state auditor’s office. But the education department says they strongly disagree.

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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.