The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) failed to maintain an Office of Dropout Prevention (ODP) for the last 10 years as required by state law. Additionally, 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. State Auditor Shad White announced these findings and more in a performance audit released today.
“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.”
In 2006, the Mississippi Legislature voted to create 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.
The Plan also established benchmarks as a guide for reaching the legislative goal of an 85% statewide high school graduation rate. However, after those benchmarks were established, MDE changed the way graduation rates are calculated by no longer counting “repeaters,” or students who needed to repeat 12th grade. The change was also made without requesting an updated graduation rate goal from the Legislature. This change increased the MDE-published graduation rates by nearly 10% and misaligned MDE benchmarks with legislative intent.
“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.
The report recommends 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 take additional steps toward that goal,” said White.