Miss. expectations on par with others

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 31, 2008

If you pull out just about any education study that ranks the states from top to bottom, Massachusetts will be in the top five and Mississippi will be in the bottom five. Is that because the boys and girls in Massachusetts are just smarter than our children? Absolutely not. Our boys and girls are just as smart as children in Massachusetts or any other state.

Our ranking in many of these studies is not a reflection of our children’s intelligence or our teachers’ ability to teach the material. Rather, it is a reflection of low expectations. For decades, we have taught to a level far below what our students are capable of reaching. However, this is a new day for the boys and girls of Mississippi.

We have raised our expectations, which will lead to raising student achievement. Over the past couple of years, our teachers have begun implementing a new curriculum. Last Spring, we implemented a new assessment to reflect the increased rigor of the curriculum. After the tests are given, an important part of the process begins.

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Teachers from across the state, who were each nominated by their district superintendent, gathered to review each test item and determine where the standards needed to be set. These standards set the scores that must be attained to reach minimal, basic, proficient and advanced categories. National experts were also brought in to review their findings.

Both the teachers and the national experts looked at each item and analyzed what level of knowledge the questions demanded. They have set the level of what is expected of our students on par with the expectations that other states have for their children. The Mississippi Board of Education approved these standards at their meeting today in Jackson.

This is a great day for children. By raising expectations, we will reduce the dropout rate and enable our students to be career and college-ready. Our students will be better prepared to complete on national assessments like ACT and SAT and perform well on skilled certification exams. In addition, it will improve our ranking on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, which business and industry use as a key indicator of academic achievement when considering where to locate and expand.

We have expected this year’s scores to be below last year’s scores.

It would be foolish to expect our students to perform as well on a much more rigorous assessment the first year of administration. However, when we have raised the bar in the past, the first year always showed a drop in student performance as the teachers and students adjusted to the increased rigor, followed by marked improvement in the following years as students reached the new level of increased expectations.

It’s time to expect more of Mississippi’s children. We now have the correct standards in place. We have great teachers and great school leaders to implement the curriculum and prepare our students for the 2009 assessments.

Certainly, Mississippi has challenges that Massachusetts does not face.

We have a far greater percentage of our population living in poverty. We know that children in poverty have fewer opportunities for exposure to educational experiences and materials outside the classroom. However, we cannot allow this or any other excuse to hold us back.

We know Mississippi’s children are as capable as any of reaching for the stars and we have set the standards to a level that is high, but reachable. One thing is clear: If Mississippi is going to move forward, it begins with education and with having high standards for our boys and girls and ourselves.

Hank Bounds is the Mississippi superintendent.