Last summer, the country was captivated by the phenomenal performances of runners, gymnasts, swimmers and other athletes from around world as they gave everything had to winning medals and setting records at the Olympics. We watched in amazement as Michael Phelps won medal after medal, finishing the 2008 Olympics with a record number of gold medals.
In 2010, we will have the opportunity to watch skiers, speed skaters, figure skaters and other athletes try to do the same in the Winter Olympics. Every two years, the world comes together to cheer on their country’s athletes and watch to see which country’s medal tally is the highest. In education, we have a similar opportunity every two years: the National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The NAEP assessments are given to students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades. Unlike the Olympics, where there are many trial events to find the best of the best athletes, we cannot select the students who will sit for the exams. Not every school in Mississippi is selected and not all the students in the selected schools are chosen to take the exams. The U.S. Department of Education selects students so that they are demographically representative of the entire state. Parents have the opportunity to opt out if they do not want their children to take the exam.
The students, teachers and school leaders have a lot riding on the results of these exams. In fact, all Mississippians have a lot riding on these results. The scores on these exams are used to make state-to-state comparisons. Businesses use these results to determine if they should locate in one state over another. Business leaders look at the results to answer two important questions: Does this state have a workforce with the skills I need for my business to succeed and grow? Will my employees who transfer into the state want to send their children to the public schools of this state?
Mississippi has performed at or near the bottom in the past administrations of the exams:
Mississippi’s Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress
Grade Subject Year N. Avg Scale Rank
4th Math 2007 239 228 51
4th Reading 2007 220 208 50
8th Math 2007 280 265 51
8th Reading 2007 261 250 51
4th Math 2005 237 227 49
4th Reading 2005 217 204 51
8th Math 2005 278 262 51
8th Reading 2005 260 251 49
NOTE: Rankings possible: 1-52 (50 states plus District of Columbia and Department of Defense)
One reason that Mississippi has scored so low in the past is that our state curriculum was not rigorous enough. We have worked very hard to implement a much more rigorous state curriculum and increased the rigor of our state assessments accordingly. Our standards are now in line with the standards on the NAEP exams.
Our students are more prepared today to take the NAEP exams than they have ever been. However, they still need our support. I hope that communities will rally around the schools that are involved in these exams, which will be administered from through March 6. I encourage you to find out if your local schools taking part in these exams and find out how you can help the students succeed. When our students succeed, our state will succeed. Attracting more business and industry to our state will improve the economic climate and quality of life for everyone.
Dr. Hank Bounds is Mississippi’s state superintendent of education.