Requirement changes result in unreliable numbers

Published 9:58 am Monday, June 13, 2011

Running the Vicksburg Warren School District has parallels to nightmare, alternate-reality sports management.

Such as trying to win the NBA championship when the refs change player substitution rules from one game to the next.

Or moving the football 90 yards down the field only to find out the goal line’s been moved, and is now not 10, but 25 yards away.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Or trying to medal in the archery event at the Olympics when the target is hung from a Slinky.

It’s tough to be judged, let alone succeed, when the rules, the goal line, the field, keep getting changed.

Take the 2010 graduation and dropout rates recently released by the Mississippi Department of Education.

Yes, not enough of our kids are graduating and too many are dropping out, but the real rates, as well as meaningful year-to-year comparisons, can’t be known because the state has not figured out how to track students transferring between districts.

The result is skewed, unreliable numbers.

VWSD Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Swinford estimated that 2010’s 51.7 percent graduation rate was understated and the 34.9 percent dropout rate was overstated by about 25 percent because the state changed its paperwork requirements.

It’s hard to believe, in our “information age,” reliable statistics can’t be produced. Something that important — for the city and county, the schools, the hard-working people who staff and attend them — needs to be accurately and strictly tracked.

This statistical debacle follows several years in which school finance director Dale McClung has had to set an operating budget — used to hire teachers, plan class sizes, buy textbooks, implement programs — at the moving target that’s been state aid.

Teachers, principals and district administrators have tried to raise student test scores as the state has changed test content and rigor as well as the field of competition — from schools and districts within the state to national institutions.

It’s a worthy goal, to make coursework more rigorous and meaningful, to make our students more competitive not just locally but nationally.

Changing the rules without notice and publishing statistics based on faulty data, however, like reducing resources and moving the finish line, makes the task that much harder .

Our district and school administrators and our teachers who have kept working in the midst of these challenges are to be commended.