Standards and Accountability: The foundation of Mississippi’s accountability system—clear standards and tests aligned with those standards—is still being built. The state does not have clear and specific standards for all subjects in all grade spans.
The state administers tests that are based on state standards in elementary, middle, and high school for English and mathematics, but only at the high school level for science and social studies/history.
The state uses multiple-choice and short-answer questions to measure student performance. Mississippi also uses extended-response questions on state English exams.
Test data are included on school report cards and are used to help rate schools. The state provides help to schools rated as low-performing and imposes sanctions for all consistently low-performing or failing schools, including non-Title I schools. Mississippi also rewards high-performing and improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Mississippi requires its high school teachers to pass subject-matter exams in the areas they plan to teach to earn their licenses. But middle school teachers, to earn their licenses, may choose to take a test, complete a subject-area major, or attend a professional-development institute.
The state does not use performance assessments, such as classroom observations or portfolios, to evaluate teachers already in the classroom and determine whether they may move to an advanced stage of licensure. Prospective teachers must take part in 12 weeks of student teaching, but the state does not require that they have majors or minors in the subjects they will teach.
The state also does not require and finance mentoring for all new teachers. But Mississippi limits out-of-field teaching to 5 percent of the total teaching staff in each school.
In addition, the state has employed some innovative methods to hold its teacher-preparation institutions accountable for how well they prepare teachers. Mississippi’s Quality Assurance Policy for Beginning Teachers stipulates that for the first two years after graduation, universities must provide extra training to any graduate who is judged by the employing school district and the district’s university liaison to need such help. Mississippi also issues an annual performance report on teacher education. One part of the report details results of a job-satisfaction survey sent to all districts asking them to rate the performance of their first-year teachers. Any teacher education program not receiving a satisfactory rating of 80 percent or more over a three-year period must prepare an improvement plan.
School Climate: Mississippi’s grade is one of the worst for school climate. The Center for Education Reform gave the state’s charter school law its lowest rating.
According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey, students less often attend schools where school officials report that lack of parent involvement is not a problem or is a minor problem than do their counterparts in most other states. The state also loses points because its school report cards don’t include information on school safety, parent involvement, or class size.
But the state does provide training for school staff members on bullying prevention, and it disseminates anti-bullying materials to schools districts, which earns the state points under Quality Counts’ grading system.
Equity: The state also has some work to do on equity. Mississippi has a high positive score on wealth neutrality, ranking 41st of the 50 states. That score indicates that Mississippi has moderate inequalities in how much state and local revenue is available for schools based on the property wealth of local districts.
The state has a coefficient of variation of 11.7, which also indicates moderate disparities across districts in the state. Mississippi ranks 37th among the 50 states on the McLoone Index, which compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with the amount that would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least at the median.
Spending: The $6,143 that Mississippi spent per pupil in the 2001-02 school year ranks the state 49th on that indicator. Mississippi spent less than 80 percent of the national per-pupil average for that school year. Fewer than 1 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts that spend at least the national average. The state ranks 49th on the spending index, which reflects how many of the state’s students are in districts spending at or above the national average, and how far the remaining students fall below that average.
At 3.8 percent, the state spends the same amount of its total taxable resources on education as the national average. It ranks fourth for the average annual rate of change in education expenditures from 1992 to 2002, with an average annual increase of 3.2 percent over that period, after adjusting for inflation.