Some public school records may be incomplete or contain errors, potentially skewing school program assessments or affecting local school district funding.
Two reports released by State Auditor Shad White’s office recently offer recommendations to ensure Mississippi public schools produce and report accurate data.
“Getting the numbers right is critical for public education in Mississippi,” Auditor White said about the report findings. “These audits make some important recommendations about how to make sure that education data are reliable.”
Auditors first reviewed the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) – the primary source of data about things like student attendance – and found some of the attendance data local school districts submit to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) goes unverified and is, in some cases, incorrect. For instance, some districts “excused” absences without having paperwork to show why they were excused. Other districts called students present in one attendance-tracking software but called the same students absent on the same day in a different piece of software. Auditors also found many school districts are lacking strong data security policies.
Recommendations for addressing these problems include:
- The MDE should conduct an internal audit to ensure attendance data are correct.
- School districts should complete periodic data checks to confirm collected data are accurate before submission to the MDE.
The second report focused on the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program – a nearly $50 million annual investment into Mississippi public schools that trains students for careers like carpentry or engineering. The report found that the CTE programs were supposed to track whether its students go on to graduate and get a job, but they failed to follow kids if they participated in CTE before their last year of high school. Given this problem, it is impossible to know how many students used their training to obtain a job.
Auditors also found MDE submitted the exact same number of CTE participants in two consecutive years, suggesting the number may not have been accurate.
Auditors made several recommendations, including the following:
- Reports about CTE’s effectiveness should include all students who participate in the program.
- Internal controls should be put in place to prevent data errors.
“As a product of our public schools, making sure the education system’s data are accurate is important to me personally,” said White. “We’ve got to know if kids are being adequately prepared for a career. If we can’t find a way to measure the effectiveness of our career training, then we can’t know where to invest more resources. We’ve also got to know the attendance numbers are right, because that determines school funding.”
Both the MSIS report and the CTE report can be found online at the Auditor’s website under the “Reports” tab.