MDE touts dropout rate but Clarksdale, Coahoma still struggle

By SPECIAL TO THE PRESS REGISTER,

 

A state Audit Department report has been challenged by a Mississippi Department of Education report pointing to the state’s declining drop-out rate in a year cut short by coronavirus.

Clarksdale recorded a 19.7-percent dropout rate – the fifth worst in the state -- under state accountability scores compiled by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) last year.

Clarksdale graduated 75.7 percent over a four-year span, according to MDE, that report also said Coahoma county graduated 84-percent and Coahoma County AHS graduated 84-percent over four years.

MDE held up its sustained record of improved student achievement over the past six years – particularly the state’s record-low dropout rate – in response to the Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA) performance audit for the MDE Office of Dropout Prevention.

State law established the office in 2006, though no specific state funds are targeted for the office.

The OSA report made no mention of the MDE’s broader, updated strategy to improve student achievement and how it successfully raised student outcomes.

“This audit completely ignores the progress made in performance by schools, districts, and students across Mississippi,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “This project was described as a performance audit, but there are no performance metrics included in the report.”

The OSA audit cited the MDE for not adhering to the 2006 law because it no longer operates a stand-alone dropout prevention office, disregarding the fact that the MDE’s Office of Secondary Education leads agency-wide dropout prevention efforts.

Those efforts are embedded throughout the Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) Strategic Plan.

Since the Strategic Plan was adopted in 2014, the MDE has spearheaded initiatives that pushed the state’s graduation rate to an all-time high of 85-percent, up from 74.5-precent in 2014; reduced the state’s dropout rate to an historic low of 9.7-percent, a decrease from 13.9-precent in 2014; and significantly improved student achievement from pre-K through grade 12.

The audit also erroneously cites the MDE for using inapplicable graduation rate data when reporting to SBE and the public. The MDE calculates the four-year graduation rate in accordance with the definition established in Section 8101(25) of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“Given the tremendous progress Mississippi students, teachers and schools have made over the past six years, it is disheartening to read a report that focuses on outdated procedures that have not been effective,” Wright said. “The State Board of Education Strategic Plan has modernized the state’s approach to education, which has resulted in historic and sustained student achievement across Mississippi. The nation now considers Mississippi a leader in education because our students are making faster progress than nearly every other state.”

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