EDITORIAL: Celebrating progress

Education advocates across Mississippi – especially leaders outside the professional education community – strongly applauded the progress in student achievement statewide reported last week by the independent and authoritative Southern Regional Education Board.
The annual report released by SREB, which analyzes data and trends in schools from Virginia to Oklahoma, shows improvement in our state across all levels.
Blake Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Economic Council and the state’s leading business-community spokesman, said, “It’s important to celebrate the small victories because small victories and progress become exponential progress over time.”
MEC has been among the strongest supporters of public education in Mississippi since the 1960s.
The Journal joins in the commendation – and in acknowledging that much more must be done, including providing adequate funding for progress during Mississippi’s continuing recession economy.
The report shows encouraging results on several fronts:
– Fourth-grade reading: 55 percent of students scored at or above the Basic Level in 2009, up 4 percentage points (the largest increase in the nation) from 2007 and 6 points from 2003.
– Fourth-grade math: 69 percent of students scored at or above the Basic Level in 2009, up 7 percentage points from 2003.
– Eighth-grade math: 54 percent of students scored at or above the Basic Level in 2009, up 7 percentage points from 2003.
– Eighth-grade reading: 62 percent of students scored at or above the Basic Level in 2009, slightly down 3 percentage points from 2003.
– Narrowing of the achievement gap for Mississippi’s black fourth-graders in reading and black eighth-graders in math on NAEP.
– Increasing the composite ACT score and the number of students taking the ACT from 1999 to 2009.
– Enrolling high school graduates from Mississippi in the state’s postsecondary institutions at a higher rate than U.S. peers.
“Teachers and students are making impressive gains against severe odds. These gains were made during the years that the MAEP was fully funded. We need to get adequate funding restored to our schools,” said Nancy Loome, head of the 60,000-member Parents’ Campaign.
State Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham cites a recently strengthened curriculum and assessment system and a renewed focus on getting students to graduation day prepared for college and careers.
“The educational gains in this SREB report are evident that we are making sustained progress toward meeting the goals set by the Mississippi Board of Education,” Burnham said. “The academic expectations for our students have been raised and they are working extremely hard to meet the challenges.”
Community and junior colleges state chief Eric Clark cited improvements on the statewide composite of the American College Test. The score increased 0.2 from 1999 to 2009; each one-tenth of a point on the ACT is considered significant. The percentage of Mississippi seniors that took the ACT increased 8 points to 93 percent.
The tally sheet also confirms remaining work to be undertaken or continued:
– Graduation rates and degree-completion numbers need improvement, and every university has undertaken specific efforts.
– NAEP scores still trail in most areas, and large achievement gaps for minority and low-income students remain. The gaps must closed to achieve the goal of exceeding national averages.
“If children are not prepared early on in their educational career, it is likely that they will not be prepared to graduate from high school or lead a successful, productive adult life,” Burnham said. “Celebrating progress, eliminating disparity and growing our state economy depends on the ability of our educational systems at all levels continuing to work together.”
As MEC’s Wilson summarized, “We have players on base, and we have to bring them home.”

NEMS Daily Journal

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