What goes up must come down.

Or at least that seems to be the case with the former Leflore County School District.

A year after showing a dramatic rise in its Mississippi accountability grade, the district came crashing back down to an “F” or failing grade on the state’s A-to-F scale.

The recently merged Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District, however, won’t be stuck with that grade. Under a one-year provision, the district that combined Leflore County with the Greenwood district is assigned the grade of the highest-achieving district. Greenwood received a C, improving from a D in 2018.

The unofficial grades for all of Mississippi’s schools and districts were made public Tuesday by the Mississippi Department of Education. They still must be approved by the state Board of Education in a meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Statewide, 70% of school districts will be rated C or  higher, assuming the state board concurs with MDE’s calculations, up from 66% in 2018. The Board of Education has set a goal that all of the state’s schools and districts be rated C or higher.

“Mississippi schools and districts are achieving at higher levels each year, and their grades demonstrate how well they are serving the children in their classrooms,” Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, said in a prepared statement.

The grades are based heavily on state tests that students from third grade through high school take each spring, as well as other academic measurements, such as graduation rates.

The Leflore County district, which had been under state control since 2013 due to failing academic performance, celebrated last year when it jumped ahead of the Greenwood district with a C rating.

In 2018, the district had three schools that improved by at least two letter grades, with Amanda Elzy Junior High leaping from an F to an A. However, those same three schools tumbled back down at least two grades this year, with Elzy’s Junior High falling to a D.

When asked for an explanation for the dramatic swings, Dr. Mary Brown, superintendent of the consolidated district, declined to offer one.

In an emailed response, she said, “While each school’s performance can be improved, we are working to address areas of deficiency by providing content-specific professional development for faculty and staff and daily instructional/administrative support.”

Two schools in the newly merged district saw their accountability grades improve considerably from last year.

Leflore County High went from an F to a C, and Greenwood Middle from a D to a B. Greenwood Middle was the only one of the consolidated district’s 12 schools to receive a rating higher than C.

In neighboring Carroll County, a miscalculation on a graduation rate, according to Superintendent Billy Joe Ferguson, has cost its high school, J.Z. George, from achieving a grade this year of C. Instead, it got another D.

Ferguson said the district mistakenly failed to include in its graduation rate “six to eight kids” who completed their requirements for a diploma in June through the workforce development program at North New Summit School.

Had they been included, the graduation rate, instead of the reported 73.5%, would have been around 80%, good enough to bump the high school up to a C, according to Ferguson. It would not, however, have raised the district’s score of a D, he said.

Ferguson, after 20 years as Carroll County’s school chief, is stepping down at the end of the year. The school board opted instead to hire Jim Ray, currently the principal at East Webster High School, as the county’s first appointed school superintendent. East Webster will receive a B grade.

The reporting of inaccurate data to the state was one of the dozen violations cited by MDE in a recent investigative audit of the Carroll County district. MDE is recommending to the Commission on School Accreditation that the 900-student district be put on probation.

Ferguson said the administration is formulating a response to the audit and will be asking the commission to reject MDE’s recommendation.

The D rating is not an accurate reflection of the district, its staff or its students, he said: “I feel like the administrators worked hard, the teachers worked hard, and we had a lot of effort from the kids.”

Many of the district’s students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and it’s difficult to raise their test scores when operating with a small staff and limited budget, he said. “We start from kindergarten trying to catch kids up. It’s hard to do.”

As he looks back on his tenure as superintendent, Ferguson said he is not totally disappointed by the results he was able to achieve.

“I did not want to be an F. That’s one personal goal I accomplished.”

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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