Some clarity on school takeovers in Mississippi

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

As conversation and tension grows regarding the Mississippi Department of Education recommending a “state of emergency” for school districts, it seems timely to have some clarification for how Natchez might be considered in that situation. The information at times has been vague, ambiguous, and even incomplete; therefore, it might be helpful to get some clarity.

When researching the MDE website for explanations, three pages provide what might seem to be different information, but some are just more complete:

  • Mississippi Recovery School District (MRSD):  MS Code § 37-17-6(11)
  • Office of District Transformation (ODT):  MS Code § 37-17-6 (2013)
  • MDE News — Chairman of State Board of Education: Released 10/05/2017

A “State of Emergency” could be declared for reasons including, but not limited to, the following criteria:

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1. An extreme emergency exists in a school district that jeopardizes the safety, security or educational interests of the children enrolled in the schools in that district and that the emergency situation is believed to be related to a serious violation or violations of accreditation standards or state or federal law (all 3 pages) — While the measure of this criterion is undefined, recent reports of fights on campus and rumors running through the community seem to indicate that NASD might have ‘met’ this criterion in several ways. Although some feel that NASD fits this criterion, we simply don’t have enough confirmed information in public record to judge as ‘meeting’ or ‘not meeting’ the criteria.

2. If a school district meets the State Board of Education’s definition of a failing school district for two consecutive full school years (all 3 pages) — This measure begins with 2016 ratings. Clear documentation in public record from the MDE Office of Accountability indicates that NASD did receive a “Failing” rating last year based on 2016 test scores. According to the current accountability formula, ratings are based on student academic performance on several state tests. Current tests administered to measure increased academic performance include:

  • Third Grade Reading Summative Assessment —  assessing student readiness to move to fourth grade. More third  graders failed in 2017 (14 percent) than in 2016 (13 percent).
  • Comprehensive  Grade-level/Subject Specific Assessments
  • Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP)  – assessing third through eighth grade math and English/language arts proficiency
  • Mississippi Science Test (MST2) — assessing fifth and eighth grade science proficiency
  • Algebra/biology/English/US history tests — assessing the highest level of high school required instruction. The 2017 test scores released this summer were ambiguous with some minimal gains and some losses. The ambiguity is based upon the fact that it involves comparison of student-specific scores which is not public information and protected by HIPPA.
  • American College Testing (ACT) — assessing college readiness. The ACT average for juniors decreased from 2016 (15.1) to 2017 (14.7).

Accountability ratings are set to be released Oct. 19 and will indicate if NASD meets this criterion with a “failing” 2017 rating.

3. Or in the event that more than fifty percent of the schools within the school district are designated as Schools At-Risk in any one year (all 3 pages) — The designation of ‘At-Risk’ is defined by MDE as receiving a ‘D’ or ‘F’ rating. NASD ‘met’ this criterion last year which is all that is required as it reads “At-Risk in any one year.” Ratings on Oct. 19 will include this information indicating which if any schools meet this criterion for a second year indicating they are eligible to be taken from NASD as part of the Achievement School District (designation from 2016 legislation that has been deferred until 2018) but still considered under 2013 legislation for a State of Emergency.

4. A lack of financial resources  (MRSD and ODT pages) — Based on recent events, it would seem that NASD has ‘met’ this criterion due to the bond referenda, etc. However, one can’t conclude that this lack is a result of district management issues because of claims/debates of the unfunded MAEP. Also, no state funds are allocated for public school capital improvements.

5. Withdrawal of the accreditation of a public school district (MRSD page) — NASD has ‘not met’ this criterion, as accreditation has not been withdrawn.

6. Failure to meet minimum academic standards as evidenced by a continued pattern of poor student performance (MRSD and ODT pages) — Although not clearly defined, “F” ratings on academic performances suggest that this criterion has been ‘met.’

It appears that NASD met two of three for the criteria on all pages (four of six for all pages); on Oct. 19, we will know if we met three of three (or five of six); and, all it takes is one for a state of emergency!

Natchez United invites you to join us for our weekly events:

  • 7 p.m. Mondays at Hotel Vue  — Community Prayers for Natchez
  • 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Hotel Vue  — Community Meeting to Support Natchez
  • 7 p.m.  Thursdays at Natchez Grand Porch — Open Mic Night to Engage Natchez

And like our Facebook Group & Page for Updates on our efforts.

Dr. Marvin Jeter is a member of Natchez United and an education consultant.