New school year, new opportunities for achievement
Back-to-school season is an exciting time for students because it is filled with new challenges and opportunities to learn.
Mississippi students excel when they are challenged. Not only have our students risen to higher academic expectations in recent years, they have shown faster gains than the nation in reading, math and science. These achievements are the result of the state’s focus on improving teaching and learning and they are earning Mississippi national recognition. Public education in Mississippi is on the rise as student achievement continues to climb in every grade, from pre-k through the 12th grade.
This year we are building upon the unprecedented gains in student achievement with initiatives in the elementary, middle and high school levels. These efforts will further help students prepare for college, the workforce and life.
The Literacy-Based Promotion Act helps ensure that every student meets grade-level reading standards by the end of third grade. Since the law went into effect in 2014, the percentage of third graders passing the initial reading test that is required for promotion has increased from 85 percent to 93.2 percent.
It is important that we don’t let up on our statewide effort to improve literacy. Starting this year, third grade students will need to reach a higher bar to demonstrate they are ready for fourth grade reading instruction. Up until this past school year, the law required third graders to score “above the lowest achievement level” to qualify for promotion, which is at the minimal level. Starting this year, third graders will need to score “above the lowest two achievement levels.” This is Level 3 on the reading portion of the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program English Language Arts test. Level 3, or passing, is one step closer to proficient, which is Level 4.
Before the end of seventh grade, all students will now complete an Individual Success Plan (ISP), which is a five-year career exploration plan that students complete with the help of a teacher or school counselor. The ISP helps students identify their career interests and plan a program of study that aligns with their career goals and leads to graduation. The ISP will be revisited annually by the student, parent and educator and evolve along with students’ interests and goals. The ISP provides an opportunity for students to connect school to interests and explore career pathways in a supportive environment.
This year Mississippi will start offering new opportunities for high school students to make their high school diploma more valuable. Incoming 9th graders get to choose whether they want to work towards a traditional high school diploma, or take additional classes to earn an academic, distinguished academic or career and technical education endorsement.
The options give students the chance to get the most out of their high school experience. Each diploma endorsement option will prepare them to be successful after graduation, whether that be in college, the workforce, or a career and technical training program.
I’m excited that Mississippi high schools offer different opportunities to make sure all students graduate prepared for the future, and Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning join me in that excitement. This year’s incoming 9th graders who earn an academic or distinguished academic diploma endorsement from our public high schools will automatically qualify for admission into any of the state’s public universities. Once enrolled, students will be placed in credit-bearing courses and will not be required to take remedial courses that don’t earn college credit.
Also, starting in the fall of 2019, all public universities in Mississippi will award three hours of college credit for an Advanced Placement (AP) score of 3 or higher on an AP exam. The universities may provide up to six credit hours, per exam, depending on the subject and AP exam for students scoring a 4 or 5. That means students who take AP courses this school year have the potential to earn valuable college credits from the state’s public universities.
These initiatives and others that will be rolled out as the school year progresses are all designed to equip students to be successful in achieving their goals, whether that be the next grade, course, college or work. As educators, it is our job to support them, and to continue to give them opportunities to reach their greatest potential.
Carey M. Wright is Mississippi’s state superintendent of education.