State Auditor: Reports show education data can be more accurate

Detailing the results of two separate reports, State Auditor Shad White says that some public school records may be incomplete or contain errors, potentially skewing school program assessments or affecting local school district funding.

In an announcement Thursday afternoon, White detailed his findings following a review of the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) and the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. He then offered recommendations to “ensure Mississippi public schools produce and report accurate data.”

MSIS Review: 

Auditors first reviewed the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) – the primary source of data about things like student attendance – and found some of the attendance data local school districts submit to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) goes unverified and is, in some cases, incorrect. For instance, some districts “excused” absences without having paperwork to show why they were excused. Other districts called students present in one attendance-tracking software but called the same students absent on the same day in a different piece of software. Auditors also found many school districts are lacking strong data security policies.

Recommendations for addressing these problems include:

  • The MDE should conduct an internal audit to ensure attendance data is correct.
  • School districts should complete periodic data checks to confirm collected data are accurate before submission to the MDE.

CTE Program Review: 

The second report focused on the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program – a nearly $50 million annual investment into Mississippi public schools that trains students for careers like carpentry or engineering. The report found that the CTE programs were supposed to track whether its students go on to graduate and get a job, but they failed to follow kids if they participated in CTE before their last year of high school. Given this problem, it is impossible to know how many students used their training to obtain a job.

Auditors also found MDE submitted the exact same number of CTE participants in two consecutive years, suggesting the number may not have been accurate.

Auditors made several recommendations, including the following:

  • Reports about CTE’s effectiveness should include all students who participate in the program.
  • Internal controls should be put in place to prevent data errors.

Speaking on the report, White expressed that accurate data is vital. 

“As a product of our public schools, making sure the education system’s data are accurate is important to me personally,” said White. “We’ve got to know if kids are being adequately prepared for a career. If we can’t find a way to measure the effectiveness of our career training, then we can’t know where to invest more resources. We’ve also got to know the attendance numbers are right, because that determines school funding.”

To check out the complete reports, click here. 

The Mississippi Department of Education took exception to White’s report, stating that “it contains inaccurate information and it holds MDE responsible for work conducted by the National Strategic Planning and Research Center (nSPARC) at Mississippi State University.”

The full response from the MDE can be read below:

The OSA report cites MDE for not accurately measuring the impact that CTE has on students; however, nSPARC and the Lifetracks data system it oversees conducts those measurements.

“The MDE has no jurisdiction over the actions and/or guidelines of nSPARC and Lifetracks,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Any findings regarding nSPARC and Lifetracks should not be included in a report about MDE’s work.”

The audit also erroneously reported conflicts between MDE and Lifetracks data. There is no conflict because two different groups of students were included in the data OSA reviewed.

“Mississippi’s CTE programs meet the standards and reporting requirements of the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The U.S. Department of Education recently approved our latest Perkins plan, which proves we have implemented the law with fidelity,” Wright said. “The MDE stands by the quality of our state’s CTE programs, which have adapted to the changing demands of the state’s labor market.”

CTE enrollment in Mississippi has increased by 17% from 2016 to 2019. High school students take courses in 39 distinct occupational areas, which help them develop marketable job skills and earn national industry certifications.