CHRIS KIEFFER: Assessment results highlight importance of new state standards

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Back in November, when Mississippi released its newest state rankings, school districts had to confront painful truths.
Many districts that had previously been at the top of the rankings in the state’s old model now found themselves lumped in the middle.
Leaders from the Mississippi Department of Education said the new model was necessary to bring the state in line with what was being taught in the rest of the country.
Standards were being raised. Children were now being measured on the ability to think, not just memorize. Schools were being judged more rigorously.
The new model was designed so that the highest ranking schools were exceeding national averages.
The need for the new system was emphasized last week when the 2009 results were released from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The reading test is given every two years to a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country. It is known as the Nation’s Report Card.
Mississippi ranked 44th in the nation in fourth-grade reading and 47th in eighth-grade. Twenty-two percent of fourth-graders and 19 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient and advanced, the top categories measured by the test.
This came in a state where 50 percent of the schools were ranked in the state’s two highest levels – 4 and 5 – under the old system.
In the new system, only two districts received the highest ranking in 2009. That status will be even more difficult to attain this year when the standards become even more demanding.
“We must prepare our students to compete with students from across the country and across the world,” Mississippi Board of Education Chair William Jones said in a press release. “Clearly there is significant work to be done, but we now have the standards and assessments in place that will lead to continued improvement and better opportunities for our boys and girls.”
Despite the low rankings, the state did make gains. Its fourth-grade average score (211) was three points better than it was in 2007, and its eighth-grade score (251) rose by one point.
“While the increase is not statistically significant, we are pleased that Mississippi scores increased three points during the two-year period where the national average score remained unchanged,” said State Superintendent Tom Burnham in that same release.
Those results will continue to improve as the state holds its schools to a higher standard. Mississippi’s children will prove that they can exceed national averages in large numbers.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.