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State students' ACT scores remain lowest in nation

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi’s ACT scores remained the worst in the nation last year, despite an increasing number of students taking courses that are supposed to prepare them for college.

The testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, says that only 11 percent of Mississippi students were ready for college in English, math, reading and science, compared to 25 percent of students nationwide. That’s up from 9 percent of Mississippi students who scored college-ready marks in all four subjects in 2008, compared to 22 percent nationwide.

In contrast to that modest improvement, the state average on the test is 18.7 this year, down from 18.9 in 2008. The national average has stayed level at 21.1.

“Unfortunately, this disturbing trend is seen across the country and is not particularly unique to Mississippi,” James Mason, the state Department of Education’s director of student assessment, told The Clarion-Ledger. “This scoring plateau represents a very compelling case for the need to increase the rigor of our curriculum and our expectations around student performance. Our work in transitioning to the Common Core State Standards is an important step in this process.”

Mississippi, along with most other states, have adopted the standards, which are intended to make instruction more challenging and push students to use more critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The small share of students who meet all the benchmarks are much more likely to enroll in a four-year college or university, ACT found. Those who meet no benchmarks are much more likely to enroll in a community college or no college at all.

Mississippi’s scores have remained flat even though the share of students taking four or more years of English and three or more years of math, social studies and natural science has increased from 55 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2012, according to ACT. The organization says that course structure should prepare students for college.

Even Mississippi students who exceed ACT’s recommendations by, say, taking four years of math ending in calculus or four years of science ending in physics, end up meeting ACT’s definition of college readiness at far-lower levels than all students nationwide.

The organization’s research suggests that academic achievement in the upper end of elementary school and middle school has more of an impact on college readiness than anything that happens in high school.

Test scores show Mississippi is farthest behind the rest of the nation in math and science. More than half the state’s seniors meet the benchmark in English, but only 14 percent do so in science. Nationally, 67 percent of students meet the English benchmark while 31 percent do so in science.

One disadvantage for Mississippi: It’s one of nine states that give the ACT test to all high school seniors. Students don’t meet the national average score in any of those nine states, which include Louisiana and Tennessee. Many of the highest-ranking states test small shares of their graduating class, in part because another college test, the SAT, is the dominant test in some places.


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About Megan Wright


  1. The fact that most states test with SAT, not ACT, discredits most of this study’s conclusions. Perhaps the Mississippi Board of Education should follow the other states’ test choice in order to allow our students a fair shake at college admissions. Why are all Mississippi high school seniors required to take college entrance exams? Is that requirement beneficial for students who have no intention of attending college? Or is it the organization that produces ACT tests that reaps the benefits?

    Mississippi citizens are regularly cited on the top of the worst case scenario studies and are, as a group, classified near the bottom of the scale in positive characteristics studies. Let’s not pass this legacy of being prone to failure to our children. They don’t deserve that added pressure,and shouldn’t be described as poorly educated or inept. They are not ignorant and they do read and listen to news reports, including this poorly presented contrivance.

    Not only are these admittedly skewed test results stated in a negative light toward our students’ education, they are a slap in the face to the dedicated, underpaid educators who teach and guide our children everyday.

    Is my reaction defensive? Yes, you got me. Six of my seven children have been educated in Mississippi’s elementary, middle and high schools.. Two finished with GEDs. Of those, Jessica finished her BA in Creative Writing in the Honors College of the University of Wisconsin and is now employed by Apple Computer in Corporate Communications. She worked her way through college, a thousand miles from home. She is forward thinking, a survivor and commutes by bicycle and eco-friendly car.

    My second daughter played at Mississippi State University for three semesters. Then she got serious about her convictions to make a difference in the lives of children. She earned her degree in Secondary Education at the University of Mississippi, worked her way through college, commuted 60 to 200 miles everyday, and overcame her earlier GPA suicide to graduate. Her first year, she taught, by choice, special education in the poorest high school in Arkansas. What graduating student with an ACT score of 36 would be willing or equipped to do that? The following year, she was recommended by the Assistant Superintendent of the wealthiest school system in Arkansas to teach English in their best school. This school year, she was extended job offers by three central Mississippi schools. Again, she chose to go where she thought she could make the biggest difference in children’s lives. She could have worked much closer to home and at a higher pay. Sarah is now teaching English in Crystal Springs, MS, a public school, and commutes 85 miles each day. She is my warrior goddess and wise beyond her years.

    My third daughter has finished two years of community college with a GPA of 3.87. She now attends my Alma Mater, University of Southern Mississippi. She is majoring in general business while working full-time. Liza Jayne is saving money now to pay back student loans upon graduation. She is already a good business woman. Liza is practical, independent, and a ray of sunshine.

    Her twin brother, Vince, knew early on that he was not college material. He loves working outdoors with his hands. He is a Jack-of-all-trades and particularly likes auto mechanics. He was determined to earn his GED and worked hard to do so. Vince went to technical school to become a welder and earned his basic certifications. He is the epitome of a hard-working man.

    Gabrielle, my youngest daughter, is consistently on the A-B Honor Roll. She is in advanced writing and advanced math classes. She is enjoying being in tenth grade at Germantown High School, Madison County’s newest school system and newest high school. By her reckoning, if she tries but doesn’t succeed, there is just something wrong with the test.

    My youngest son, David, is also attending Germantown. He has always been quiet and reserved in class and a one-man riot at home. Teachers and administrators point him out as being nice and kind and always helpful. His unparalleled humor is based on keen observation and assessment of everyone and everything around him. Mark Twain and Jay Leno, meet the Y generation comedic prodigy. David was successfully enrolled in the Fast Track program in Madison County after three consecutive years of homeschooling. I applaud the administrators and teachers of this program that allows students to make up for academic weaknesses caused by a variety of circumstances.

    My children are not defined by their educations or occupations, nor have their achievements and personal accomplishments in college been predicted by their ACT scores. My own ACT score did not accurately predict my level of preparedness in college, nor did it indicate my business acumen.

    Mr. Mason, on second thought, I believe It may be more practical and justifiable to eliminate testing for college preparedness and apply those funds to elementary education excellence in Mississippi, not for the sake of rankings or comparisons, but for the sake of our children’s futures.

  2. I agree with R. Rowbuck… the bottom line money drives testing

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