Good News in Mississippi Test Scores

 Posted 3/14/16

School rankings and ratings can sometimes mask extraordinary work. That's the take-away from our deep dive into Mississippi's test data.

We looked at math and language proficiency rates on Mississippi's 2012-2013 state tests (most recent available by subgroup), comparing poor and non-poor students in C-rated school districts to those in districts rated A and B, and found that:

• In 100% of Mississippi's C-rated school districts, economically disadvantaged students outperformed similar students in one or more B districts in several grades and subjects, and outperformed similar students in one or more A districts in at least one grade and subject.
• Non-poor students in C districts in many cases met or exceeded the proficiency rates of non-poor students in some A and/or B districts.
• Most of Mississippi's C-rated districts have significantly more students in poverty than do our state's districts rated A and B.

Click here to see the details of our study and which C-rated districts outperformed some A and B districts in each grade and subject.

A closer look at Mississippi's national test scores revealed impressive achievement gains on that front. Last spring, fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country took the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often called "the nation's report card." On that test:

• Mississippi fourth-graders who are economically disadvantaged ranked 35th in the country (out of 51) in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) when compared to similar students in other states, up from 45th in 2013, the last time the test was given. See rankings here.
• Mississippi fourth-graders who are not economically disadvantaged ranked 35th in the country (out of 51) in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) when compared to similar students in other states, up from 46th in 2013, the last time the test was given. See rankings here.
• Mississippi fourth-graders ranked 38th and 39th in reading among poor and non-poor respectively, when compared to similar students in other states. See those rankings here and here.

In every state, the average test scores of students who live in poverty are lower than the average test scores of children who are not poor. Mississippi has a higher percent of poor children than any other state - much higher - so it stands to reason that our average scores on national tests would lag other states' when all students (poor and non-poor) are lumped together. The same holds true for our school districts - those with more students in poverty typically have overall scores that lag behind the districts with fewer students in poverty.

Chairman Herb Frierson hit the nail on the head last week when he told his House Appropriations Committee that teachers in many C-rated districts with high poverty levels are doing extraordinary work, noting that poverty makes a big difference.

Chairman Frierson is right. Research is clear: children living in poverty tend to score lower on achievement tests than their non-poor peers. The research also makes clear that, with additional resources, students in low-income households can reach the same levels of academic success as more privileged students. These are the facts that legislators should consider when they start tinkering with the funding formula and voting on bills that punish and reward districts based upon their accountability ratings.

This analysis is in no way an indictment of our accountability system. We at The Parents' Campaign support strong accountability measures, and many factors should be considered when rating schools. State test results are best used at the school level to identify strengths and weaknesses and adjust instruction accordingly - not as an excuse to under-fund or privatize public education.

Teachers and students are working hard to meet the challenges of our new standards, and they are succeeding. I know you'll join me in congratulating them - and in encouraging all legislators to support their work, as well.