StandardsState education board should be ashamed

Published 6:37 pm Saturday, July 28, 2012

Howell Gage of Vicksburg is the only Mississippi State Board of Education member who should not resign in disgrace following the board’s decision not to consider graduation rates when assigning this year’s school and district ratings.

Gage was the sole vote opposing the imbecilic move to drop for one year the requirement that at least 80 percent of a school’s students must graduate for that school to earn the state’s top rating, and 75 percent must graduate to earn the second highest rating.

Gage, who has been a member of the state board since 2004 and was just elected its vice chairman, said, “It’s going to send the wrong message when it comes to graduation and dropout prevention.”

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Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, was more direct.

“It’s the obligation of a K-12 system that kids graduate from high school prepared for college or career. There’s no reason to beat around the bush on this other than people don’t want to look bad.”

Well, the Board of Education looks bad, and its decision makes the state of Mississippi look bad in the eyes of a nation committed to keeping educational standards high.

A school can have a greater-than-20 percent dropout rate and be called excellent? Greater-than-25 percent dropout rate and be judged near the top? Really?

And what happens next year, when that “one year” hiatus is over? How will a school’s 2012 rating be compared to its 2013 rating, when those graduation rates kick back in to the formula?

Understanding the performance of a school is dependent upon long-term, consistent standards.

It’s going to be difficult enough to judge if our schools have improved from last year, given that the Legislature passed a measure to change — for the third time in five years — Mississippi’s rating system. From five numerical ratings, to seven descriptive terms, to five letter grades — please, settle on a rating system and stick with it.

Even if the formula used to calculate the ratings has not changed, confusion is sure to reign as those ratings are interpreted, confusion now compounded by the state board’s boneheaded decision to throw out graduation rates.

No matter the reasons board members gave. A school that graduates fewer than 80 percent of its students does not deserve an A.