In September, the State Board of Education released accountability labels for schools and districts based on the previously released 2009-2010 data.  The labels, which brilliant editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey equated to flotation devices, are based on a combination of a school’s “Quality Distribution Index” score, growth measure result, and (for high schools only, obviously) high school completion index.  At the top end of the scale, there were more districts and schools rated as “successful,” “high performing,” or “star” this year than last, indicating that schools and districts are showing achievement gains, at least by Mississippi’s measures.  This progress at the top end of the scale corresponds with a shrinkage of schools and districts falling to the “academic watch,” “low-performing,” “at-risk-of-failing,” and “failing” categories.In addition to their function as a public awareness tool for how schools are doing, the labels serve an important accountability purpose: districts that are rated as “failing” for two consecutive years are at-risk of state takeover under the Children First Act of 2009.  Since last year was the first year the state assigned accountability labels, the first group meeting the two-year definition is comprised of

Kemper County School District DeKalb, MS
West Tallahatchie School District Webb, MS
Hazlehurst City School District Hazlehurst, MS
Okolona Separate School District Okolona, MS
Drew School District Drew, MS

Since Hazlehurst City and Okolona Separate are already under state conservatorship, Kemper County, West Tallahatchie, and Drew are next in line for possible takeover due to academic reasons.  (It should be noted that the state can takeover districts at any time for financial reasons or because a district fails an accreditation audit badly enough that the state is concerned for the immediate health and safety of the students in the district.)  After being rated “at-risk-of-failing” in 2008-2009, Hollandale joins the list of failing districts for 2009-2010.  However, good news did come for a few districts: Coahoma County and North Panola, which were both rated as failing in 2008-2009 have moved to “academic watch.”  Indianola, also failing in 2008-2009, is now labeled “at-risk-of-failing.”  Currently, both Indianola and North Panola are under conservatorship and are likely to remain there until gains by the districts are both stronger and sustained.

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