by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher/AP Member – editor@thegazebogazette.com

After Mississippi State Board of Education’s Commission on School Accreditation Tuesday morning, September 27, the Long Beach School District was officially named the number one school district in the state with their review of the school accountability grades for 2021-22.

This is the first year of releasing the public school accountability grades in the state since 2019 because of the global pandemic (COVID-19), which affected the entire school systems throughout the United States and Mississippi.  Previously, Long Beach had been awarded “A” ranked schools every year since 2016.

“Clearly, I’m surrounded by a very strong team that cares about students and puts the best interests of all students first and foremost,” expressed Long Beach School District Superintendent Dr. Talia Lock, who is serving in her second school year at this position.  “Going forward, I know that our team will strengthen and we will never lose sight of our mission.  We will celebrate this as a community and as a school district, then we will roll up our sleeves and keep moving forward.”

The accountability grades reflect how student achievement has improved after declining during the early part of the pandemic.

“On behalf of the Long Beach School District, to say we are elated would be an understatement!  This success is really a success of all of Long Beach working together towards a common goal,” said Long Beach School Board President Tim Pierce.  “Long Beach values education, and as part of such, we passed a bond to reconstruct our high school. Our community stepped up to support our schools, and I am very pleased to show the community that their support has yielded quite the return for our investment!  Also, an achievement such as this is possible due to the talented administrators and teachers along with our hard working students and dedicated, supportive parents.  Everyone contributed to this phenomenal outcome! Congratulations to our community!  It’s a great day to be a Bearcat!”

Approximately 81% of schools and 87% of districts will be rated C or higher for the 2021-22 school year. Though overall grades appear to have improved since 2019, state officials advise caution when interpreting score changes between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years. In particular, substantial shifts in performance may be temporarily influenced by factors associated with pandemic disruptions.

“The pandemic not only disrupted teaching and learning, it also impacted the state’s accountability system that evaluates the effectiveness of schools and districts,” said Dr. Kim Benton, state superintendent of education, interim. “While we are encouraged by the tremendous growth, it is especially important this year to look at all the components that make up each school and district grade to get a complete picture of student growth and achievement.”

“We certainly could not thank one person for this award,” stated Dr. Lock in response to earning the top grading school district.  “The teachers that are in the trenches doing the phenomenal work since COVID-19, our students who have been working really hard to make up those gaps, the administration, the support staff, and educational partners in the parents and the community.”

 The 2021-22 school and district grades were impacted by key factors involving student achievement decline in 2020-21, testing waivers and one-year adjustments to the accountability system.

With Long Beach being the top ranked district in the state, State House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett could not be more proud of his hometown school district.  “As I travel all across the state to see schools, I am so thankful that the Long Beach School District is the top in the state,” said Bennett, District 120 Representative from Long Beach.  “Under Talia’s leadership, the amazing teachers, administration and staff this school district has with the lack of resources during the pandemic, it is truly an amazing accomplishment.  I am very proud for the kids, teachers, administration and school district.”

The calculation of the state’s A-F accountability grades relies heavily on the amount of progress students make in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics from one year to the next, particularly the lowest performing 25% of students. Overall, students made significant progress between 2020-21 and 2021-22, as schools focused on accelerating learning after the first year of the pandemic.

In addition, the passing requirements for high school Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History assessments were waived in 2020-21, which will affect the graduation rate until all students who tested under the waivers graduate.

The city of Long Beach and civic leaders appreciated the schools and the hard work they’ve done in the community.

“It’s a great day to be a Bearcat,” conveyed Long Beach Alderman-at-Large Donald Frazer, serving his second term as a member of the city’s board of aldermen.  “I couldn’t be more proud of our school’s under the leadership of Dr. Lock, all of the teachers, and staff.  From top to bottom, what a great team effort.  Congratulations on being the top school district in the state!  Just another reason Long Beach is a great place to live!”

Federal law requires all states to assess students annually in ELA and Mathematics in grades 3-8 and once during high school. Mississippi law requires schools and districts to earn annual A-F grades based on student performance and growth.

Mississippi’s accountability system includes the following components:

  • Student proficiency and growth rates in ELA and Mathematics in grades 3-8
  • Growth of the lowest performing 25% of students in ELA and Mathematics
  • Science proficiency in grades 5 and 8
  • English Learner progress toward becoming proficient in the English language
  • Performance on the ACT and high school Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History assessments
  • Student participation and performance in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement and dual credit/dual enrollment courses
  • Four-year graduation rate

The SBE temporarily adjusted the statewide accountability system in 2021-22 to calculate A-F grades and determine federally required school improvement designations. Adjustments were needed because the cancellation of assessments in spring 2020 resulted in some students lacking scores to calculate growth.

The MDE worked closely with the state’s Accountability Task Force, Technical Advisory Committee and the Center for Assessment to review and analyze assessment data to ensure the addendum proposal was technically sound and presented an accurate picture of the academic performance of Mississippi students.