The report card for Mississippi’s K-12 education came back today.
It was not good news, although education officials tried to cast the results in a light that would inspire students and parents to work harder rather than crush their spirits.
Looking at the numbers alone, it would be very easy to despair.
State-wide, four in 10 students in grades 3 through 8 had either a “minimal” or “partial” understanding in math and English language arts, the two critical subjects that are foundational to a good education.
In Columbus, particularly, and to varying degrees throughout the Golden Triangle, the results are far more disturbing.
In the Columbus Municipal School District, the majority of students in every grade and in every subject tested at either minimal or partial understanding. In eight-grade math, 46.9 percent CMSD students scored at the minimal understanding level. Another 34.9 percent rated at the “partial understanding level.” That means eight in 10 CMSD eighth-graders have a below-adequate grasp of math and English, according to the tests.
The scores are far worse than what we saw last year, but it is very much of an apples-to-oranges comparison.
No, our kids did not become dramatically dumber over the past year. What has changed is how the state is measuring success.
This year’s testing was the first under the PARCC system, testing designed for Common Core Standards. Beginning in 2010, local school districts began implementing their own curricula designed to ensure students would meet Common Core standards, which seeks to fundamentally change how our children are taught. To a degree, the poor test results should not be surprising. In many cases, students have had limited exposure to these more rigorous standards.
Although it has become something of a political pinata in recent years, when first proposed, Common Core was widely hailed as a real step forward in closing the K-12 achievement gap between American students and those of other countries whose K-12 education is far superior.
While our colleges and universities remain the finest in the world, K-12 education in the U.S. had slipped to the point where colleges and universities were seeing more and more incoming students ill-prepared for college coursework.
That meant taking a hard look at K-12 education.
Common Core was conceived to transform how our children are taught — moving away from learning by rote (memorization) to learning the core concepts of the subjects. It requires students to think critically and develop a deeper, broader understanding of the concepts fundamental to the subjects.
As with all new approaches, Common Core – more accurately, the curricula used to achieve the standards — has been a work in progress. We see that in today’s PARCC scores.
We’ve all heard the horror stories from parents who are just as mystified by this new approach as their children.
It is unsettling, certainly, when a parent can’t help his third-grader with math homework. But what Americans find confusing and pointless, parents and students in other countries have long found logical and effective.
Their success is not abstract; students in other countries are better at math, better at language, better in most subjects.
There will be some who see these scores as evidence that Common Core is a failure. In fact, the scores prove just the opposite. We can no longer kid ourselves.
If we are to restore our status as the best-educated country in the world, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and work harder.
To abandon Common Core is to concede defeat and delude ourselves into thinking everything is OK.
It is not. We have the proof of that today.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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