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Report gives state's schools 'F' in achievement

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi’s K-12 schools once again trail in an influential measure of school performance.

Though it gets good marks for high standards, Education Week’s Quality Counts report gives the state’s school system a “C-” overall, saying the state is particularly lagging on test scores and the amount of money it spends on schools.

Mississippi ranked 45th among the states, with South Dakota getting the worst grade, a “D+.” Education Week gave its best grade, a “B+,” to Maryland.

The publisher of the weekly education newspaper gave Mississippi an “F” on K-12 achievement, which is mostly based on scores on the National Association of Educational Progress, although scores did show improvement in some areas.

“Fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP scores are definitely something we have to improve on,” said Pete Smith, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Mississippi did get an “A” for its state standards, which Smith attributed to recent upgrades.

“These reports tell us things we should already know,” said Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, a group pushing for changes in how the state educates its children.

Incoming Gov. Phil Bryant has vowed to focus on improving reading in early grades and to create options for high school students to enroll simultaneously at community colleges to discourage dropouts.

He also says he supports charter schools to offer alternatives to traditional public schools, more prekindergarten classes, and higher qualifying standards for teachers. But though he said he doesn’t want to further cut the K-12 budget, he has discouraged hopes that Mississippi will spend significantly more on public schools.

“We must change our discussion of education from one only of dollars and cents to one that makes sense,” Bryant said in his inaugural address Tuesday.

Education is also getting renewed attention from others in Mississippi. Improving educational achievement emerged as the top priority of people who participated in meetings as part of the Blueprint Mississippi strategic planning effort, sponsored by the Mississippi Economic Council.

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