EDITORIAL: Test challenges

Statewide scores published this week for standardized tests administered last spring offer some encouragement in some individual schools and districts, but the honest assessment for the state as a whole is the “flatlined” descriptive used by Superintendent Hank Bounds.
Bounds, who heads the statewide public school system, had told the Daily Journal editorial board in an earlier discussion that he expected an overhaul of the curriculum and testing methods would be required to demand more of students and teachers.
That time has come, to raise standards and expectations – the classic and time-proven way of demanding and getting more based on changes in students and necessary knowledge.
Tests in grades two through eight showed slight improvements or steady scores; tests given to high school students in the required core subjects for graduation produced mixed results, some up and some slightly down.
Make no mistake, Bounds isn’t proposing changes to create higher scores with easier tests and easier requirements. Parents and students can expect to encounter more demanding curriculums and tests, which requires a parallel increase in effort and proficiency by students, teachers, administrators – and parents.
The standard against which Mississippi students’ knowledge must be proven sufficient is nationwide. We cannot measure ourselves against ourselves and expect to get a credible read on where students stand in relation to what and how well they have learned.
For example, Mississippi needs to compare favorably against other states when the National Assessment of Educational Progress test is given again in the spring of 2007. The test is given every two years, and all students nationwide are equally challenged.
Mississippi students need to measure up on those kinds of tests. What and how curriculum and learning is structured in our public schools doesn’t have to be identical, but it must achieve the same good results reached by schools in other states.
So, if our own statewide standards aren’t producing progress measured against ourselves, the learning results won’t be good measured against children in other states.
For example, on the 2005 science assessment, 55 percent of Mississippi students tested were below basic, 33 percent basic, 12 proficient, and 1 percent advanced. In Georgia, a competitor state for jobs and economic growth, 37 percent scored below basic, 38 percent basic, 22 percent proficient, and 2 percent advanced. The national averages were 34 percent below basic, 39 percent basic, 25 percent proficient, and 2 percent advanced.
So, Mississippi clearly has an urgent need to improve in moving students out of the “below basic” category, but our scores are within reach of both Georgia and the national averages in the other categories.
But we must demand more, work harder, and teach better.
Bounds and the state board clearly are on the right track in focusing on more rigor at every level from K-12.
Learning does not depend on tests, but good tests accurately measure achievement. Our own tests show we’re not achieving what’s necessary to advance beyond the school years with full effectiveness and confidence in competition with students from other states.
Mississippi can achieve at an acceptable nationwide level; the issue is sustaining and creating the will to do it.

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