JACKSON — For the first time in several years, Jackson Public Schools has joined the Mississippi Department of Education’s list of failing districts in the state, with 17 JPS elementary and middle schools drawing an F in numbers the State made public today. Four Jackson high schools, Callaway, Forest Hill, Lanier and Wingfield, are also deemed failing. The state’s longest-standing charter schools, ReImagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School, have ratings of “D” and “F, respectively.
All of the 19 public-school districts in Mississippi newly rated “F” have majority-African American student populations.
Earlier this year, JPS celebrated a dramatic reduction in its number of failing schools—from 17 to eight to two within the past three years—but J.P. Beaudoin, former chief of research and development at MDE, says those scores came during the three years the state has been under a federal waiver.
“There is no waiver for these scores,” Beaudoin said at an MDE board meeting this morning. “These are the first set of scores in which the baseline has been re-established from 2013. If you think of those years as the initial baseline, the three-year window of accountability for three years is under the waiver. That part of the story is over, and the new part of the story (is one) with a new assessment and a more typical life cycle.”
The final accountability ratings for the 2015-2016 school year reflect a new scoring system MDE put in place in September. The scoring system was a point of contention for the state’s education leaders; MDE proposed a plan to assign A’s to 8 percent of school districts and F’s to the bottom 20 percent of districts, but a school administrator task force suggested 15 percent of districts get A’s and 13 percent get F’s. The Commission on School Accreditation, however, supported the task-force plan; eventually, the state compromised on a system that assigned A’s to 10 percent of schools and F’s to 14 percent, an Associated Press story reported in September. Most school districts are a B, C or D. Overall, the state’s public-school accountability rating is a C. Accountability ratings reflect ACT- and state-test score growth, graduation rates and the amount of students enrolled in advanced courses.
“These results represent a new starting point for measuring the progress of schools and districts across the state,” said Carey Wright, Mississippi’s superintendent of education, in an MDE press release. “Superintendents, principals and teachers have all worked diligently to implement higher academic standards and help students achieve better outcomes. Our students’ significant gains on the National Assessment of Educational progress, their rising graduation rate and their achievements in Advanced Placement all show that students are rising to higher expectations.”
But Wright also says it is clear why JPS got the rating it did – low proficiency scores in subject areas, college and career-readiness standards, and a graduation rate under 70 percent. “When you’ve got proficiency rates that are that low, that is going to drag you down overall in points,” she said.
Overall, the school year has been rocky for JPS. In August, the state slapped the district with probation for being out of compliance with 22 of 32 of the state’s accreditation policies. As the Jackson Free Press reported in August MDE was mainly concerned with the district’s graduating students who might not have completed all graduation requirements, as well as inadequate school safety.
At press time, JPS was not available for comment. But when faced with probation in August, Gray was firmly optimistic about the future of his district.
“We’re still going to do school every day,” Gray said. “We’re going to take care of our business.”
Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow at the Jackson Free Press and the Hechinger Report. Email email@example.com.