But gains in scores for minorities and low-income students didn't come at the expense of white and non-low income groups in last spring's state tests, as is often the assumption when there's discussion of closing achievement gaps. All groups did better.
The achievement gaps are still pronounced in Tupelo, just as they are in most other districts in Northeast Mississippi, the state and the nation. Roughly 80 percent of the Tupelo district's white and non-low income students scored at least proficient, while the figure was around 47 percent for black and low-income students.
But the movement is in the right direction, given that the underachieving groups were more than seven percentage points lower the year before. And in the white and non-low income groups, the improvement was just over six and five and a half percentage points, respectively.
The improvements came through intentional focus, which is necessary to correct any long-standing problem.
Tupelo has historically enjoyed much better success educating students from non-disadvantaged backgrounds than those who come to school without the educational head start that an economically stable home life provides. As the school system's percentage of minority and low-income students steadily increased in recent years, the gap came more visible and pronounced, leading to a decline in TPSD's academic standing.
The results of last year's tests are encouraging for many reasons, not the least of which is that they show a focus on the achievement of underperforming groups - greater attention to all students, in other words - can bring their performance up while other students rise as well.
Demographics are changing not only among Tupelo's student population but in many if not most other school districts as well - not as decidedly in all cases, but the state and southern regional trends are unmistakable. More students will be entering our schools from minority and economically disadvantaged backgrounds in the coming years than ever before, and if our schools are to perform as they should, they must do a better job of reaching those students.
The level of educational attainment our students achieve will in large measure determine not only their personal economic success in life, but the ability of communities and regions to prosper. Because of that, it's an absolute imperative that achievement gaps be closed, and that it be done while improving all students' performance. Tupelo has a long way to go in reaching that goal, but it has gotten a start.