State official gives sobering assessment of schools

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, January 28, 2009

NATCHEZ — It could take Mississippi’s students until 2091 to reach the national average on some standardized tests if the current rate of improvement does not increase.

That was the message delivered by the Mississippi Board of Education Deputy Superintendent Kris Kaase at a meeting to discuss standardized testing Tuesday.

At the meeting, educators from several local counties came together to discuss the new Mississippi Curriculum Test.

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The MCT2, as it’s commonly known, is a standardized exam that tests students on reading, writing and math.

The scores from those tests are then used to compare Mississippi’s students against students from across the country, and they play a role in determining how much funding a school district will receive.

In 2008 the MCT was replaced by the MCT2.

The new test, which is designed to be more challenging than the original, is meant to force students to perform at a higher level and raise their scores closer to the national average.

But at Monday’s meeting, Kaase said getting the state’s students on par with the national average will be a task that requires a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Kaase said.

And that hard work needs to begin immediately.

The state board of education’s goal is to have its students testing at or above the national average by 2013.

The state’s students currently rank near the bottom of the national average, Kaase said.

But Kaase said the current progress seen in the classroom over the past 15 years won’t even come close to that national average.

By his own estimates, if progress continues as it has, it would take 60 years for Mississippi’s fourth graders to reach the current national average in reading.

The state’s fourth and eighth grades are used as benchmark years to measure improvement.

And for eighth graders, the news isn’t any better.

Kaase said if the state’s rates of improvement don’t change, it would be 2091 before the state’s eighth grade students were hitting the current national average.

“That’s at the current rate of progress,” he said. “But we need to make faster progress.”

To speed up the pace of progress, the state board of education will implement a plan designed to give students a greater depth of knowledge, not just teach them how to take the test.

Monica Cannon, parent coordinator for the Jackson-based Parents for Public Schools, the group that organized the event, said she felt schools often take too much time teaching students how to take the MCT2 and not enough time teaching the students academic skills.

And Kaase agreed.

However, both are hoping the depth of knowledge approach will help that problem.

Kaase said, once implemented, the program will give students a greater understanding of why they’re learning, what they’re learning and how to apply that knowledge to other aspects of study.

Once that’s done, the scores should improve, Kaase said.

“We just can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.