Correcting the record on Mississippi’s historic education gains

Carey Wright:

Former State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright rebuts a recent column in the L.A. Times claiming Mississippi “gamed its national reading test scores.”

Like educators in Mississippi and across the nation, I was shocked by the deeply cynical column in the Los Angeles Times about Mississippi’s well documented achievements in education over the past decade.

While the author acknowledges Mississippi’s historic, and sustained, gains in fourth-grade reading, he attempts to negate this achievement with a critique of unrelated social and health policies in the state. 

Mississippi’s achievements in fourth-grade reading include student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rising from the bottom nationally to ranking to 21st in the nation. In addition, Mississippi students living in poverty scored higher than their peers nationally. This achievement holds steady across all the state’s major racial and ethnic groups: Black, white and Hispanic students from low-income homes in Mississippi achieved higher scores than their peers nationally.

The author takes issue with the fact that some political leaders and journalists call these achievements the “Mississippi Miracle” because the state has more work to do to improve educational outcomes for all students.  

Educators do not call these achievements a “miracle” because we know Mississippi’s progress in education is the result of strong policies, the effective implementation of a comprehensive statewide strategy and years of hard work from the state to the classroom level. We also know Mississippi has more work to do to improve student achievement in all grades, especially among Black and Hispanic students and students living in poverty. Though every state struggles to close achievement gaps, particularly among racial groups, Mississippi ranks No. 2 in the nation for closing the fourth-grade reading achievement gap between students in low-income families and their wealthier peers.

“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”

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