The state is setting ambitious goals in a new plan required by federal law, including more than doubling the percentage of students scoring proficient on statewide tests in 2025.
Currently, 32.6 percent of Mississippi students scored proficient on the English Language Arts test while 31.1 percent scored proficient on the math test. The state is setting a goal of raising that rate to 70 percent in the next eight years.
The plan, which all states must develop under the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, also calls for eliminating the achievement gap between all students and African-Americans and reducing the gap in graduation rates of special education students and other students. In addition, the state aims to see an overall graduation rate of 90 percent by 2025, up from 82.3 percent last school year.
Nathan Oakley, executive director of the elementary education and reading staff at the state education department, said the goals are “ambitious.”
“Our (ESSA) advisory committee absolutely was determined that that was a timeline we needed to meet and the rate we needed to meet as a state,” he said. ” … We can’t continue to accept what we’re getting.”
The committee is made up of lawmakers, education officials, advocates, practitioners and members of nonprofits from across the state.
The “Mississippi Succeeds” plan also provides a look at how the state will use federal funds to help its most needy schools. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states must identify and provide support to the lowest-performing five percent of all schools receiving Title I funds, or high-poverty schools.
Oakley said based on last year’s data, 36 schools qualify for what the state is calling Comprehensive Support and Improvement interventions. These schools can receive different levels of support based on the needs, ranging from face-to-face coaching support, priority access to professional development and access to formula grants.
“We have about 730, 740 Title I schools in the state right now. What we would do is stack those schools up against each other and identify the bottom 5 percent of those schools for comprehensive support based on” state assessment scores and accountability measures, Oakley said.
An additional 11 schools were identified as Targeted Support and Improvement schools. These schools have a particular subgroup of students struggling with proficiency and will be identified as the bottom 5 percent of schools receiving Title I funds in which the subgroup’s academic growth does not meet the growth or proficiency rate of their counterparts around the state.
The interventions at Targeted Support and Improvement schools will be tailored individually to the subgroup, not to the entire school as in the Comprehensive Support and Improvement model. There are 10 different subgroups of students in Mississippi, including economically disadvantaged students; English learners; students with disabilities; Alaskan Native or Native American; black or African-American; Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; white; and two or more races.
“So, for instance, a TSI school (is a school) that maybe is a high performing or middle performing school but has a subgroup that is performing exceptionally low,” Oakley said. “Maybe special education (students) or African American subgroup is performing below those state-set targets.”
The state will continue to provide support to all 122 schools with an F rating.
Oakley told the board he worries about the availability of federal resources to address all of the schools, however.
“We don’t know that we’ll have enough to address all schools identified for comprehensive and targeted,” Oakley said.
Board member Charles McClellan said he was concerned by the level of support schools will get from the state under the new plan.
“We’re still supporting them, but the responsibility to get the work done rests at the local level” under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Oakley explained. He said different divisions within the department will be focusing specifically in the areas of building leadership capacity in the identified schools.
“We’re going to help. We can’t do the work for them, but we are there to support and advise and coach them in that effort,” he said.
ESSA, in contrast to its predecessor No Child Left Behind, provides schools and districts more flexibility in the methods it uses to improve equity, transparency, accountability and access to high-quality early education.
“We are focused on outcomes, and this is not business as usual. School improvement is a significant part of the state’s strategic plan as reflected in the Board’s goals,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education.
Board Chair Rosemary Aultman said the new plan builds on what the state has already set into motion, including an increase in the graduation rate, improvement in students’ scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), or the nation’s report card, and the implementation of a more rigorous statewide test.
“This plan builds on the momentum from our recent successes,” Aultman said. “We intend to see that improvement continue by maintaining high expectations for our students so they can reach their full potential.”
Public comment on the plan, which can be viewed here, will be open for the next 90 days.