• Mississippi’s plan provides a comprehensive overview of current facts, figures, and performance across multiple educational components. It clearly ties the ESSA plan to the state’s greater strategic plan and provides a foundational understanding for the ESSA plan, which increases accessibility for all audiences.


  • The state includes a strong focus on raising student achievement and accelerating college and career readiness. The state has set ambitious goals and should be commended for setting a high target for proficiency for all students and all subgroups of students. The plan’s focus on academic growth and accelerated coursework is an area of real strength.


  • Mississippi also has a clearly defined A-F school and district grading system that ensures stakeholders know how schools are serving their students. The policy on the cut scores for the A-F system is commendable, as the plan calls for a reassessment of these thresholds in the future to ensure the rigor of the school grades. Another strong element of the plan is its inclusion of science and social studies assessments, which supports a more well-rounded education approach.


  • The state’s plan to place low-performing schools and districts in the state’s Achievement School District is a rigorous intervention and a strength of the plan. This strategy will enable the lowest-performing schools to receive the attention and support needed to improve.




  • Mississippi’s plan does not directly include subgroup performance in its A-F school grades. While it does include an indicator capturing the growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students, it is unclear whether schools could receive high grades overall even if individual subgroups perform poorly. The plan might also have benefited from the inclusion of a non-test-based indicator, such as chronic absenteeism, for elementary and middle schools.


  • Mississippi has not incorporated an indicator of progress toward English language proficiency in its A-F grades, which is at odds with both ESSA’s requirements and the needs of the state’s population of English learners, who are generally lower-performing than their English-speaking peers.


  • Mississippi’s intervention plans for low-performing schools primarily consist of coaching and technical assistance, which lack evidence to show that these steps will lead to turning around low-performing schools.


  • Additionally, Mississippi has weak requirements for exiting improvement status, which could result in exiting schools from additional supports without their showing actual improvement in student performance.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Mississippi scored in each category.



Mississippi has a strong, student-focused vision of college and career readiness; however, it recognizes that it has a long way to go, given very low student achievement.


Mississippi has aligned its long-term goals with those established by the Mississippi State Board of Education’s Strategic Plan from 2015. The state sets a 10-year timeline for long-term goals with the rationale that today’s third graders—the first grade on which the state collects data—will be 12th graders in 10 years when college- and career-readiness data are available.


In that 10-year timeline, Mississippi has the goal of 70 percent of all student subgroups achieving proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. By setting a consistent goal across all subgroups, the state’s ESSA Advisory Committee is attempting to close gaps in performance among subgroups. The baseline scores for ELA and math for the all-students group are 33 percent and 31 percent, respectively, and for black students, 19 percent and 17 percent. Therefore, a 70 percent goal seems ambitious for all students and subgroups of students as it more than doubles proficiency rates for most groups and will eliminate achievement gaps should Mississippi achieve these goals. However, the state does not provide data to suggest why it chose 70 percent as a target, and, given historical trends, these goals are likely not achievable.


Mississippi aims to close the graduation rate gap between student subgroups and all students by 2025.


As a long-term goal, Mississippi aims to close the graduation rate gap between special education students and all students from 47 percent to 20 percent, as the all-students graduation rate increases to 90 percent and the special education students subgroup increases to 70 percent by 2025. This goal would more than double the current graduation rate for special education students (from 34.7 percent to 70 percent). Mississippi will now include in the graduation rate students with significant cognitive disabilities who earn an alternate diploma; however, it does not indicate the impact this policy will have on the current rate, nor does it denote that the 2015-16 baseline data is based on a different calculation. Again, the state does not provide a rationale to suggest why it chose these particular goal targets. In addition, the graduation rate goals for all other subgroups are different, unlike the other long-term goals that set the same target for all subgroups, and there doesn’t appear to be one consistent method for calculating the separate goals.


Mississippi has also set long-term goals for English learners making progress toward English language proficiency by 2025.


With 48 percent of English learners currently making sufficient progress, Mississippi aims to increase this percentage by roughly two percentage points each year, to 70 percent by 2025. To determine whether English learners are making gains, Mississippi will count the number of English learners increasing their composite proficiency level, to the next highest level on its LAS Links assessment. Mississippi could strengthen its plan by adding further information regarding how these goals align with the state’s overall expectation for students to exit English learner services within five years.



Mississippi is implementing high standards but has used three different assessments since the 2013-14 school year.


Mississippi uses the Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards, a variation of the Common Core, which are more rigorous than their previous standards and aligned to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, while its standards have remained relatively consistent, Mississippi has used three different assessments since the 2013-14 school year, making it difficult to compare trends in performance. The current assessment, the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP), was first implemented in the 2015-16 school year, after one year of using the PARCC assessments.


At the high school level, Mississippi is using end-of-course assessments in English II and Algebra I, with an indication that it will soon begin using Algebra II end-of-course for those students who take the end-of-course Algebra I exam in 8th grade. It is unclear whether some students will be taking different high school assessments in mathematics within the accountability system as a result.


The state does not offer assessments in languages other than English, noting that it is an “English only” state.


It also does not identify any languages that are present to a significant extent among its English learner population. Mississippi will assess students with the most significant cognitive disabilities through an alternate assessment aligned to alternate academic achievement standards and resulting in a state-defined alternate diploma. The state should strengthen its plan by ensuring that it has a process in place to meet the 1 percent cap on alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.



Mississippi’s plan provides a simple, high-quality list of indicators of student success that will be used in an A-F school and district grading system.


However, the state does not comply with ESSA’s requirement that English language proficiency be given “significant” weight in school ratings. Besides student achievement in reading and math and on-time graduation rates, the state’s school and district grades are based on achievement in science for all grade spans and social studies in high school, learning gains for all students and the lowest-performing students in all grade spans, and measures of college and career readiness and “acceleration” in high schools. By including science and social studies, Mississippi is signaling the critical importance of a well-rounded education.


Mississippi also deserves recognition for using innovative academic measures.


Its high school acceleration metric promotes preparedness for higher education and the workforce by measuring the percentage of graduates who are eligible for college credit on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Advanced International Certification of Education exams, or state-approved industry certification courses; who earned college credits via dual enrollment; or who earned nationally recognized industry certifications. However, the acceleration measure could be strengthened by including all students in the school, not only those who are “eligible” by virtue of being assigned to higher-level middle school courses or because they graduated high school. Moreover, Mississippi should monitor its data to ensure all of its options are comparable, or whether certain types of students are disproportionately likely to pursue certain pathways.


Additionally, Mississippi will track whether schools meet the state’s English learner language acquisition target with a (+) or (-) on the school’s overall grade.


This does not appear to meet ESSA’s requirement to give English language proficiency “substantial” weight in school ratings. The state says inclusion of English language proficiency as a separately weighted indicator in the state’s accountability model “could later be implemented once valid and reliable measures of English proficiency and growth are established, and as the English learner population is more evenly distributed.” The state also does not identify for what time period it will include former English learners in its subgroup for accountability purposes.



Mississippi deserves credit for pairing a clear, transparent measure of student achievement against grade-level expectations with a relatively simple, easy-to-understand growth model.


Mississippi pairs its measure of student achievement (percent proficient) with a growth model that measures whether non-proficient students advance performance levels (in whole or in part) on state tests over time, and whether proficient students maintain their performance at the proficient level. Mississippi’s accountability system also places a significant weight on measuring these learning gains—twice as much weight in the school grades calculation relative to proficiency in ELA and math—and is unique in that it includes measures of growth in high schools.


One reason growth receives such significant emphasis in Mississippi school grades is that it is the only measure in the system that includes the lowest-performing quartile of students at the school level. Half of the learning gains measure examines whether the lowest-performing students, in each school, are making progress, creating strong incentives to focus on moving these students toward meeting grade-level expectations. Mississippi’s growth model primarily awards schools credit for students reaching or maintaining certain performance levels on state tests. Still, the state could do more to value growth for all students, not just the low-achieving.



Mississippi has a few protections in place to identify student subgroups in need of support, but it also has a few glaring weaknesses.


The state’s inclusion of growth for the bottom quartile of students in each school may help capture these students, as subgroups that are historically underperforming are overrepresented in the bottom quartile. However, it’s possible that a school could have a low-performing subgroup and still receive a high letter grade without ever identifying the subgroup’s low performance.


Targeted support schools are identified based on subgroup proficiency, but only as compared to the expected statewide performance of the same subgroup, not in comparison to state performance as a whole. Absent additional information, this plan raises concerns that some subgroups may be poorly served without a more rigorous bar for intervention.


Mississippi sets a low threshold to include subgroups of students in its accountability system (an n-size of 10 students).


However, Mississippi could use its lowest-performing quartile subgroup in addition to individual subgroup performance, which would increase subgroup accountability without eliminating the combined subgroup that enables small schools to use some disaggregated data.


In addition, the lack of inclusion of the English language proficiency measure in the overall rating is a weakness, and the +/- designation for that indicator may not be sufficient to drive behavior.


Finally, Mississippi’s policy for holding schools accountable if they do not meet a 95 percent participation rate in annual testing does not include subgroup protections.


If a school/district does not meet the 95 percent minimum participation rate, it will automatically be dropped a letter grade. However, this only applies to the overall average. The state would have a much stronger plan if it applied the same penalty if any individual subgroup dropped below the 95 percent threshold.



Mississippi’s A-F accountability system provides an overall rating for each school.


While the letter grades are not incorporated into the state’s identification of schools for comprehensive and targeted support, the total summative score is utilized in the identification of comprehensive support and improvement schools. For comprehensive support, schools will be identified if they are in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools, have a graduation rate of less than or equal to 67 percent, or were a previously identified targeted support and improvement school with three consecutive years of subgroup proficiency performance at or below that of all students in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools.


Schools will be identified for targeted support and improvement if they are in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools not identified for comprehensive support, in which three-year average growth in school subgroup proficiency is less than the target proficiency growth rate for the same statewide subgroup and the school’s subgroup proficiency rate is less than the statewide subgroup in any of the three years being calculated. The state’s plan would be stronger if it was linked to its other metrics within the accountability system beyond just proficiency and created accountability scores per subgroup for each accountability measure.


School grades do, however, have a direct impact on schools and districts designated for the state’s Achievement School District (ASD). If a school or district receives an “F” designation for two consecutive years or for two out of three consecutive years, it may be absorbed into and become part of the ASD.



Mississippi’s most rigorous intervention is placing schools in the state’s Achievement School District (ASD).


Schools in the ASD receive all of the interventions and supports provided to comprehensive and targeted support schools. In addition, as is the definition of the ASD, the State Department of Education takes over the governance of the school. Mississippi’s plan could have provided additional detail on the ASD approach.


For comprehensive support schools, Mississippi has two levels of support.


Support Level 1 is for the bottom 30 percent of the schools identified for comprehensive support. These schools will receive face-to-face embedded coaching support, access to formula grants, priority access to professional development, and quarterly regional leadership team meetings and webinars. Support for Level 2 comprehensive support schools (the other 70 percent) includes much of the same types of supports, but less face-to-face coaching and fewer meetings. While there may be a case for separating schools in comprehensive support for different levels of intervention, Mississippi doesn’t explain why it does so. All “F” schools, regardless of identification for comprehensive support, will have priority access to supports.


For targeted support schools, Mississippi is much less detailed.


The state will only require that the local school board choose evidence-based interventions. The state explains that if funding is available once comprehensive schools are served, targeted support schools will also have access to formula or competitive grants. Mississippi does not intend to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent of funds set aside, which would have provided the state an additional opportunity to align its school improvement activities with its statewide goals.



Mississippi’s criteria for schools to exit comprehensive and targeted support appear weak.


To exit comprehensive support, schools must be above the bottom 5 percent of all Title I schools after three years, have a graduation rate over 67 percent after three years, or have subgroup performance above that of all students in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools for three consecutive years. This system allows three separate ways of exiting support status, some of which have little to do with the school’s own improvement and more to do with slightly higher-performing schools declining in performance.


To exit targeted status, the school’s subgroup must have a three-year average growth in proficiency above the statewide target proficiency growth for that particular subgroup. To be exited from the ASD (see “Supporting Schools” tab), schools and districts must maintain an accountability rating of “C” or higher for five consecutive years.



It is clear that Mississippi worked with state and local stakeholders to align the goals of its accountability plan with the state’s recently drafted strategic plan.


The state’s ESSA plan builds upon the state’ strategic plan in a coherent fashion. Throughout its ESSA plan, the state makes note of which strategic plan goals the sections of ESSA address. While the A-F rating scale is clear for each school, there is not a clear understanding that the state is supporting all schools to continuously improve.


In addition, Mississippi notes continuous improvement at various points throughout the plan.


In particular, the state notes a plan to raise the A-F scale once more than 65 percent of schools are at a grade of “B” or higher. The plan also discusses the need to incorporate the English language proficiency indicator into the overall grade at some point in the future. It is evident from the discussion that stakeholder engagement was a critical component of creating the plan; however, explicit ways to continue engaging with stakeholders moving forward are not delineated.

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