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School districts in Mississippi received A through F grades from the state Department of Education in October based in part on new metrics that could prove to be especially difficult for some of the poorest and most rural schools in the state. MDE now includes factors like participation and proficiency in accelerated coursework in a district’s score. That accelerated coursework includes Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and dual credit classes. (The state still uses various performance measures from the new state test, such as math and science proficiency and graduation rates.)

One potential pitfall to the new metric? More than 50 percent of schools in Mississippi are rural, and rural schools notoriously struggle to offer college-level courses.

Research shows this is due to several factors, including a lack of teachers certified to teach these classes and a lack of access to colleges that could partner with high schools for dual enrollment.

In recent years, the number of Mississippi schools offering AP courses has fluctuated, according to data released by the College Board, which oversees the AP program. In 2008, 189 schools in Mississippi had students participating in AP classes, which was an all-time high. By 2013, that number dropped to 150 schools. In 2015, the College Board began to include schools in the count that didn’t order exams but had students test at other schools, which brought the state total to 170 schools.

This year, many of the school districts that received the lowest “acceleration” score are also among the most rural in the state, like Coahoma County School District, Kemper County School District and Montgomery County School District.

So how did districts fare overall?

The Hechinger Report’s data editor Sarah Butrymowicz put together this map to show the overall ratings that districts received. As you can see, the distribution of scores is relatively predictable. Many districts that serve largely poor and black student populations received D’s and F’s, while districts with more affluent and white students received A’s and B’s.

Mississippi school districts

Here are a few more takeaways from the data released by MDE.

1. Thirteen of the 19 school districts that received an F rating have student populations that are greater than 95 percent black. The other six districts with F ratings vary between 80.5 percent and 91 percent black.

2. White students are largely concentrated in the highest-performing districts. The top five school districts in the state have majority white student populations.

3. The state’s two charter schools fared poorly on this first year of scores. Reimagine Prep Charter School received a D and Midtown Public Charter School received an F. (State Superintendent Carey Wright told the Associated Press that the charter schools need more time to show growth.)

4. History buffs live on the coast: three of the five districts with the highest proficiency rates in history are coastal districts (Long Beach, Pass Christian and Ocean Springs). Several coastal school districts were also among the districts with the highest college readiness score, as determined by ACT scores.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Mississippi.

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