/As state scores rise, Delta districts grapple with disparity in test results

As state scores rise, Delta districts grapple with disparity in test results

Nonprofit Mississippi News Despite the state’s recent claims of rising test scores, a Mississippi Today analysis found that Delta students score 16 percent less than the statewide average. The Mississippi Department of Education published its annual Mississippi Academic Assessment Program scores in August. It showed that 39.8 percent of students scored proficient or advanced on English Language Arts exams, and 43.9 percent did the same for math assessments. However, in Delta-based schools districts, 23.7 per cent of students scored at proficient or advanced level on English Language Arts exams while 27 percent scored the same in math. Education experts believe that the Delta has been receiving less resources than the rest of the country, which is why the disparity exists. “Poverty affects everything, without a doubt. Does that mean these children don’t have the ability to do so? This does not necessarily mean they are incapable. These children have exceptional ability. The question is, “What do they get from birth to the time they get to school?” Eddie Anderson, director of the Delta Area Association for Improvement of Schools, said. U.S. Census Data, for example, shows that the average income in Shelby (a Delta town with a high school) is about $21,000. The average income in the state is approximately $40,000. These children need extra support. Many children return home from summer break and don’t read a book for the entire Summer. Anderson stated that instead of growing, the child is actually moving backwards. Anderson said, “I cannot give them a summer school program with my money if they don’t have that money.” Anderson stated that these schools need additional resources to bridge the funding gap. Anderson acknowledged that MDE provides significant training for preK-3rd graders with reading support. But, Anderson stated that more needs to be done in order to bring historically underserved areas up to the same level of achievement as the rest. Smith stated that in a situation of playing catch-up, the more resources available to address the specific needs of students is the best way to go. Officials at the MDE say that disparities such as those in Delta districts can be caused by a variety of factors. “… These can be affected by a variety of factors, including access to consistent high-quality Tier 1 instruction through the K-12 continuum; increased rates for turnover for district leadership; children entering school (prek and kindergarten) at a lower performance level than their peers who have had frequent access to literacy-rich environment; and high rates poverty,” Dr. Sonja Robertson of the MDE’s school improvement department said in a statement to Mississippi Today. In a statement that was sent with the 2018 MAAP test results, Cary Wright, the State Superintendent, stated that the assessment results this year show significant progress in improving student achievement throughout the state. Wright stated that Mississippi is one of the most rapidly improving states in America and that Mississippi’s students have made historic achievements. “Mississippi’s students are changing the narrative about public education in Mississippi.” English Language Arts and Math scores in the Delta improved from 2017 to 2018, but not at a rate comparable to the state’s rise. The statewide ELA scores rose by 3.1 percent between 2017 and 2018, while the Delta’s rose by 1.8 percent. The statewide math scores increased by 5.3 percent over the previous year, compared to the Delta’s 3.8 percent. MDE has also published an achievement gap analysis for the two most recent years of test data. This analyze identifies differences in student populations within Mississippi. These groups are based on race, gender and socioeconomic status. The analysis also noted that Mississippi aims to eliminate or close the assessment proficiency gap among student subgroups by 2025. Mississippi Today reported previously that Wright stated that MDE was “looking at developing additional resource for districts and teachers to address this gap.” Anderson said that, while all education professionals are responsible for helping students achieve their potential, it is important to take significant steps to address regional disparities. Anderson stated that people continue to speak about the Delta’s underperformance. Talk is not cheap. “Talk is cheap. If you want the Delta to succeed, you will have to do more.”