State Auditor says Dept. of Education altered data to improve graduation rates

State Auditor says Dept. of Education altered data to improve graduation rates
(Source: Jackson, Sarah)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A state audit reveals the Mississippi Department of Education altered data in an effort to increase the state’s graduation rate, and neglected the state’s Statewide Dropout Prevention Plan.

State Auditor Shad White announced on Thursday that MDE failed to maintain an Office of Dropout Prevention for the last 10 years as required by state law.

He also said that lawmakers told MDE to increase the graduation rate from 61% in 2006 to 85% by 2019, and MDE met this goal in part by changing how it calculates the graduation rate.

In 2006, the Mississippi Legislature created an Office of Dropout Prevention at MDE. The Office of Dropout Prevention created the Statewide Dropout Prevention Plan to meet its obligations under state law. Auditors determined MDE has not employed an ODP director as required by law since 2009. Further, the MDE employees listed as being responsible for statewide dropout prevention were not aware a Statewide Dropout Prevention Plan existed.

“MDE has a responsibility to follow the law, just like I do in my position and Mississippians do in their everyday lives,” said Auditor White. “The law says that there should have been an Office of Dropout Prevention performing certain functions to help districts increase the graduation rate. That office was not functioning and not performing its duties under the law.”

The plan set a goal for MDE to reach an 85% graduation rate statewide. However, auditors found MDE changed the way graduation rates were calculated by no longer including “repeaters,” or students who needed to repeat 12th grade.

This reportedly bumped up the graduation rate by nearly 10%.

“Mississippi’s teachers, parents, and administrators have worked together to improve our graduation rate over the past few years, and that’s a commendable, important achievement,” said Auditor White. “But some of that improvement in the graduation rate, is just due to a change in the way MDE calculated the graduation rate. You have to be honest about it.”

Auditors also found MDE has not conducted an annual evaluation of local dropout prevention plans as required by law since 2014. Additionally, 73% of district-level dropout prevention plans failed to meet requirements set by MDE, and approximately half of these programs statewide are not monitored by MDE. Auditors also found only 29% of these programs are based on evidence despite MDE’s stated commitment to sponsoring evidence-based programs.

Auditors recommend MDE reestablish the Office of Dropout Prevention and update benchmarks set in the Statewide Dropout Prevention Plan to account for changes in how graduation rates are calculated. The report also suggests the Legislature consider taking action to ensure the Office of Dropout Prevention is operational and submits regular legislative updates.

“As a product of our public schools and the son and grandson of Mississippi public school teachers, I’m proud to see our state has made progress toward a higher graduation rate. We still have more work to do, of course, and with a reestablished ODP and clarity on how graduation rates are calculated, MDE can make additional steps toward that goal,” said White.

The performance audit report can be found online by searching under the “Reports” tab at www.osa.ms.gov.

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