UPDATE: Large number of schools at risk of failure

JACKSON — About 30 percent of Mississippi’s 152 school districts are at-risk of failing based on the state Department of Education’s new accountability system.

The Department of Education on Monday released seven new rankings for districts and schools from highest to lowest — star, high-performing, successful, academic watch, at-risk of failing, low-performing and failing.

The data also assigned labels to all of the state’s schools.

The system is based on a district or school’s achievement rate on assessment tests, student growth and graduation rate. It also measures districts and individual schools against the rest of the nation.

Previously, Mississippi schools and districts were measured against in-state achievement, said Kris Kaase, deputy superintendent of instructional programs.

Now, “to be the highest, the school or district has to be the best among the nation,” Kaase said.

Under the new system, only two districts received star rankings — Booneville School District and Pass Christian School District. Twenty-one districts were high-performing and 38 were successful.

Thirty-four schools were labeled star, 142 high-performing and 217 successful.

Academic-watch means the district isn’t performing at a level acceptable to the Department of Education, Kaase said. Schools and districts that receive the failing label will go through an evaluation process with the state, said Kaase.

There are 45 districts at-risk of failing and eight that are labeled failing. The numbers for schools were 158 and 53, respectively.

The old accountability system ranked schools by levels. Level 5 was the highest-performing and Level 1 was the lowest.

Tom Burnham, who takes over as state superintendent of education in a few months, said over 50 percent of schools were rated Level 4 or 5 under the old system.

“I have no doubt that we can see dramatic improvement in Mississippi’s schools…,” Burnham said in a statement. “We have hardworking, dedicated teachers and administrators and talented students who are as bright and capable as students anywhere.”

Rickey Neaves, who has been superintendent of the Booneville schools for three years, said community involvement is one of the factors that’s benefited his district of 1,350 students.

“If we have parent-teacher night, 80 to 85 percent of our parents come,” Neaves said. “This community expects our school district to be successful.”

The Associated Press