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Miss. school plan seeks to double proficiency levels


Jeff Amy/The Associated Press



JACKSON -- Mississippi's state Board of Education wants 70 percent of all students to perform proficiently on standardized tests under a new plan to comply with federal education legislation. 


The state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act sets a goal of more than doubling the share of students showing mastery in math and English/language arts within eight years, and eliminating the current gap between African-American and white students. 


Mississippi students historically have performed among the worst in the nation, although the state has shown some progress in recent years. However, students would have to improve at a much more rapid rate to reach the 70 percent goal by 2025. If they did so, they would far outstrip national averages. No more than 40 percent of students are proficient at math or reading at any level tested by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, one nationwide yardstick. 


Nathan Oakley, the department's head of elementary education and reading, admitted the goals are ambitious. 


"I think the 70 percent is a number the public can get behind," he said. 


The plan also calls for the share of students who graduate high school in four years to reach 90 percent by 2025, up from the current 82 percent. As part of that, it seeks to double the four-year graduation rate of students with disabilities to 70 percent. 


The new law replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, aiming to give states and local communities more flexibility and to remove some of the punitive features of the previous law. All 50 states must submit accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act in order to continue receiving education funding from the federal government. Mississippi gets nearly $800 million a year in federal K-12 funding. 


In addition to letter grades, Mississippi would give schools a plus/minus indicator on whether students not fluent in English were making progress toward that goal. Such English-language learners are unevenly distributed across the state. 


A group of advocates including Southern Echo and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund called Friday on the board to add a measure of school climate as part of the state's plan. Such a measure would count the number of students suspended or expelled, and also survey students about whether students feel safe and engaged in school. They're worried about whether African-American students face discriminatory discipline in schools. 


"We ask that you do not push students out of school," said Marilyn Young, Southern Echo's education director. 


The plan also says the state will provide extra money to roughly 50 low-performing schools, which must spend the cash on improvement methods demonstrated to work. 


Implementing new measures could require a change in how the state grades districts and schools. Oakley said that after a series of shifts in the grading system and tests, many educators strongly desire to keep the grading system for several years. Keeping the bottom 25 percent measure that Mississippi already uses would allow that to happen. 


The department is accepting online public comments about the draft plan through mid-July. Officials will also hold meetings seeking feedback on June 26 in Hattiesburg, June 27 in Jackson and June 29 in Oxford. Gov. Phil Bryant will then review the plan before it goes to federal officials in September. 





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