- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi again ranks last in the nation in school performance according to an influential evaluation released Thursday, but the state ranks near the top in a new measure of how many students are participating in preschool programs.

Education Week’s Quality Counts report gave Mississippi a “D” overall for school performance, 51st among the states and Washington D.C, well below the national average of “C.” The state ranked third-to-last in a measure of what chance of success in life a typical child has, and 41st in measures of how much it’s spending and how evenly that spending is spread among rich and poor districts.

The newspaper rated Mississippi last in student achievement because of poor test scores, graduation rates and students reaching advanced levels in 2014 and did not revise that overall measure this year.

“We will continue to push for reforms that keep standards for learning high, improve graduation rates, increase access to high-quality early childhood programs and support effective teachers and school leaders,” State Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement.

“Of course, our overall K-12 ranking is troubling and is further proof of why we enacted transformational public education reforms like the third grade gate and new opportunities for public charter schools last year,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement.

Education Week didn’t issue overall grades in 2014 and revised its approach this year to try to focus more on outcomes. For example, it didn’t rate states on their standards, which traditionally had been an area where the state scored highly.

The state’s ranking on school finance actually improved from 46th in 2014. Mississippi spends 3.6 percent of its taxable resources, above the national average, on K-12 schools. But because the state is poor, per-pupil spending comes out low.

Mississippi’s “B” in early childhood education was a brighter outcome, ranking only behind the District of Columbia and Hawaii. The grade was influenced by the number of students attending programs, and gave high marks if poorer children were as likely to attend as richer children.

Though kindergarten is not mandatory in Mississippi, the authors estimated that 82 percent of eligible children are enrolled in state kindergartens, the third-highest share nationwide.

The authors also found 52 percent of all three- and four-year-olds attend preschool, compared to 47 percent nationwide. That may be a function of the strength of the state’s federally-funded Head Start program, which enrolls 73 percent of eligible children in poverty, more than double the national rate. It also may benefit from the relatively small share of Hispanic residents in Mississippi, who are less likely nationwide to enroll children in preschool.

Wright and Bryant said it’s also important to focus on preschool quality. Despite high attendance rates, a recent evaluation found two-thirds of Mississippi students aren’t prepared when they enter kindergarten.

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Online: Quality Counts: https://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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