Thank goodness for Mississippi

Published 9:36 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

“Thank goodness for Mississippi” is taking on a completely new meaning.

As I began teaching fourth graders in Mississippi years ago, I remember educators across the country vocalizing the mantra, grateful that Mississippi kept their own state out of last place when ranking student achievement in the U.S.  They would say, “Thank goodness for Mississippi,” for perennially being ranked 50th out of 50 states.  Today, the only educators saying “Thank goodness for Mississippi” are those of us here in the Magnolia State, the others are scrambling to see what we are doing.  We are defying expectations when it comes to educating our children.  Student achievement results are up for the fourth year in a row. Mississippi is ranked as one of the most-improved states in student achievement in the country.

The numbers tell the story, and this fall Mississippi came in as number one for student score gains in English and Mathematics on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). At a time when most states are seeing their scores drop or remain flat, Mississippi student achievement is at an all-time high. Nearly half of students met or exceeded expectations in English and Math during the 2018-2019 school year, compared with about one-third of students the year before.

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It’s a statewide success story that is being echoed throughout all four corners of our state and, everywhere in between.  Mississippi is made up of rural school districts, and providing an equitable education to all students has been a longstanding challenge. Yet here we are today, seeing significant gains in this area: the number of school districts with more than 45% of students testing as proficient or advanced has increased more than three-fold in English and more than four-fold in Math in the last three years.

Our students are measured on the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP), developed by teachers across the state. Teacher participation in assessments is extremely valuable because teachers have ownership in the process and confidence children will be measured based on what they are teaching.  The work of our students, families, and teachers is proving that a successful future may be sustained for all of our future Mississippians. 

With a combined focus on early childhood education, graduation rates and insightful assessment data, we believe we are on the right track here in Mississippi. But our work isn’t done. We want all students to learn to read, graduate on time, and be prepared for college or the career path of their choosing.

As a young teacher, it seemed there was a culture of low expectations.  Today, I see educational leaders in our schools, school districts, and in our Department of Education challenging each other to push ourselves farther than we were willing to push ourselves in the past.

We have some challenges compared to other states, but today we are not using those challenges to make excuses. Today our students, families, and teachers are rolling up their sleeves every day to provide a rigorous education for every child.

Today, at this very moment in time, everyone in our state should be incredibly proud of the progress our students are making as we, Mississippians, continue to inspire them to become problem solvers, lifelong learners and productive members of society.

Today let us all say, “Thank goodness for Mississippi!”

Glen V. East is superintendent of the Gulfport School District