Audit Shows Office of Dropout Prevention was Defunct, Changed How Graduation Rate Was Calculated to Improve Stats

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JACKSON, Miss. – 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
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.

The post Audit Shows Office of Dropout Prevention was Defunct, Changed How Graduation Rate Was Calculated to Improve Stats appeared first on Mississippi Office of the State Auditor News .

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