County on track to improving education gap

By DEMETRIUS THOMPSON,

Earlier this month, the Mississippi Department of Education released this year’s achievement gap results for the state’s public school districts. The three county school districts all

 made strides in some areas but fell behind in others. On the English Language Arts assessment, Newton County School District had decreases in its achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged students and the gap between white students and African-American students on the English-Language Arts assessment.

Union Public School District decreased its achievement gap between white and African-American students and its economically disadvantaged students on the ELA assessment. However, the districts saw increases in achievement gaps for several categories on the ELA and mathematics assessment.

Statewide, the gap between white students and African-American students nearly remained the same on the ELA assessment, but increased slightly in mathematics.

Thankfully there were no increases more than 3.2 percent across all categories statewide, but the data reveals that there’s still a lot more work to do.

What the report doesn’t reveal is how much the state’s African-American students (whose achievement gap is 29.2 percent for math and 28.9 percent for ELA) overlap with economically disadvantaged students (whose achievement gap is 28 percent for ELA and 28.4 percent for math).

The one other interesting bit of data is that African-American students now make up the largest chunk of public school students in Mississippi, with 123,927 taking the ELA assessment and 121,084 taking the math assessment in 2017, while 110,529 white students took the math assessment and 112,507 took the ELA assessment. That means that for the state’s educational performance to improve long term, the academic achievements of African-American students must improve.

Of course, many of the factors that lead to nearly a quarter of a million students in the state being economically disadvantaged are beyond what school districts, teachers or the state education department can do anything about. It will take parents, communities, businesses and organizations to help minority and poor students get a leg up in the classroom.

Last week, I was lucky to attend the certificate presentation for the Keys to the Community program for Newton Municipal School District. The students learned about local government and the judicial system. Programs like this can go a long way in helping to close achievement gaps.

Help from corporations like the donation of the former Peavey Electronics facility in Decatur to the Newton County School District are also a key way to close achievement gaps. When school districts are able to expand their curriculum without spending millions of dollars building new structures, students who might not otherwise have been engaged can finally find something that ignites their thirst for learning.

The data from the MDE was a little discouraging, but I think that Newton County is on the right track in doing its part to close those gaps.