The Mississippi Department of Education plans to make official on Thursday its annual accountability report that grades the academic performances of public school districts and individual schools. It will be the first such update in three years, with the covid-19 pandemic preventing results in both 2020 and 2021.
The department teased some good news in advance Tuesday, when it posted the preliminary ratings of school districts on its website. “Approximately 81% of schools and 87% of districts will be rated C or higher for the 2021-22 school year,” a press release added.
The press release didn’t compare the new figures to percentages from the most recent ratings in 2019. But a look at the 2019 list makes it clear that more school districts are getting a better grade this year.
In 2019, 31 school districts got an A rating. This year’s preliminary report has 44 districts with an A. This does not involve a change in the scoring scale; in both 2019 and 2022 a district had to get 668 or above to receive the top grade.
As for B ratings: In 2019 34 schools got a B, while this year 36 are in line for that grade.
And C ratings: In 2019, 34 districts got that grade. This year, if the preliminary scores stand, 46 will qualify for it.
Those numbers indicate that far fewer districts will get the least desirable grades of D and F this year. Sure enough, only 12 districts got a D while five got an F, including two from this part of the state, Amite County and Wilkinson County — a total of 17. That’s a great improvement from 2019, when there were 22 D-rated districts and another 19 with an F — 41 in all.
If the new list of ratings proves to be accurate, there will be a lot of happy educators in Mississippi. The overall trend of school district grades is up. McComb, South Pike and Walthall County schools are among those heading in the right direction, as each district moved up to a C this year.
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Skeptics are sure to ask, “How can this be?” And it is fair to look at the latest results as a surprise. Basically, the state Department of Education is saying that, in spite of the most severe interruption to education in memory in 2020 and 2021, when many schools were closed and districts had to set up online instruction on the fly, seven out of every eight school districts in the state is getting an A, B or C rating.
The public won’t know the details of how ratings improved until school officials take a deep dive into the test scores or other information. But, generally speaking, the results are saying that many districts turned in much better test scores during the 2021-22 school year.
McComb’s score, for example, jumped to 580 from 521 in 2019. South Pike turned in a 552 after getting a 496 three years ago. And Walthall County’s score moved to 571 from 504.
At a minimum, improvements like those will support the claim that teachers were worth the $5,000 pay raise the Legislature and Gov. Tate Reeves approved for them this year.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal