Mississippi school achievement last in U.S., according to new report

14057703-largeJACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Despite strong state standards, Mississippi students are not catching up to the rest of the nation, ranking last in a school performance evaluation released Thursday.

Education Week’s Quality Counts report puts Mississippi 51st among the states and Washington, D.C., in K-12 student achievement. That is actually down a notch from last year. Only Mississippi and D.C. were graded “F” in student achievement. Massachusetts and Maryland, the two top states, each earned a “B” grade from the education newspaper.

Mississippi also ranked among the lowest 10 states in providing young people a chance for success in life, financing schools and improving teaching. The state ranked somewhat higher on how well K-12 connects to preschool, college and kindergarten, and ranked 10th for standards.

Education Week did not issue overall grades to states in 2014 report, unlike in previous years.

“We must forge ahead with supporting higher expectations for our students, providing technical assistance and professional development to our teachers and school leaders, and working together to offer all of our students the education they deserve,” said new state superintendent Carey Wright in a statement Wednesday.

Mississippi’s best ranking, as has been the case for several years, was in the area of standards, where the state got an “A” and ranked 10th.

The state’s math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress outstripped growth nationwide over the last 10 years, with the state ranking ninth in gains among eighth graders and 21st in gains among fourth graders. But even after those gains, only 26 percent of fourth graders scored proficient in math while only 21 percent of eight graders scored proficient.

Proficiency standards on the NAEP are generally higher than those that Mississippi sets on its own tests, which means large shares of Mississippi students get good ratings on state tests but score lower on NAEP.

Reading gains have lagged. Eighth graders actually scored worse in reading in 2013 than in 2003, while improvements in fourth-grade reading lagged the national average. Gov. Phil Bryant and lawmakers focused in on reading instruction in 2013, passing a law that mandates all third-graders read at a basic or higher level before being promoted.

“Our third grade gate policy alone will have tremendous positive impact,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement. “We know that what we were doing in the past was not generating the results students need to succeed. If we are vigilant about implementing the reforms we have adopted, we will see serious improvements.”

The state has only provided funding and hired reading coaches to help improve instruction in small share of schools, although Bryant and others want to increase funding in the 2014 Legislature.

Mississippi ranked third from the bottom at providing students a chance for success, getting a “D-plus.” Only New Mexico and Nevada ranked lower. The state was dragged down by its low income and existing educational levels, which Education Week judged to be a handicap for students and evidence of poor outcomes for adults.

The state got a “D” for school finance, ranking 46th. The state spends 3.6 percent of its taxable resources, about the national average, on education, but because Mississippi is poor, that comes out to spending that’s significantly below average, even once regional cost differences are cancelled out. Plus, property-rich districts spend more on students than property-poor districts, making spending unequal across the state’s 151 districts.