Education leaders tout national recognition

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Mississippi has earned a “B-plus” in a national report for its new school accountability measures, and Superintendent Tom Burnham says it shows that the state is on the right path to an improved education system.
“This is a significant step,” said Burnham.
“We can’t advance without a good accountability system.”
Burnham spoke at a news conference to discuss the recently announced achievement. Also at the news conference were former Superintendent Hank Bounds, who is now the commissioner of Higher Education, and the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, Rep Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, and Sen. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian.
In Education Week’s Quality Counts report, a recognized national rating system, Mississippi received a B-plus in the Standards, Assessments and Accountability category. In 2001, the state received a D-minus.
Burnham said a B-plus is the same grade received by North Carolina, which often is recognized for improvements made in its education system.
In recent years, the state has made a concerted effort, led by Bounds when he was superintendent and by the Mississippi Board of Education, to improve the curriculum in the school districts and to make standardized tests more difficult.
The state board said research indicates that more difficult assessment measures lead to student improvement, and thus to better readiness for college and the work force.
Schools did not fare as well as last year under the new accountability standards, which compare students to national norms rather than state averages. But, Burnham said, improvement would come.
“As a community, and as an individual, you encourage progress by ensuring local education leaders understand that you expect rigorous courses and high expectation for all students,” Burnham wrote recently.
Another key ingredient in the new accountability system, Burnham said, was the Children First Act passed by the 2009 Legislature. That bill gives the state more authority to help low-performing school districts and to take over chronically failing school districts.
Bounds said the goal of the new system is to make sure students from Mississippi can compete with their counterparts in any state.
“Incrementally,” Brown said, “we are making progress in education.”

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.