Making the Grade

While perusing the Mississippi Department of Education’s budget presentation for the 2019 Fiscal Year, I noticed several items that will make citizens proud. Our graduation rate has never been higher, and statewide assessments indicate two consecutive years of better scores. Yet we must acknowledge that our state’s school systems still face significant challenges. Mississippi’s eleventh graders averaged a meager 18 composite on the ACT, and we have far too many districts that do not prepare their students for success in college, or equip them with the skills needed to work immediately after high school. (I’m also somewhat disheartened that the document lists full MAEP formula funding as a legislative goal. I’d love for that to happen, obviously, but it’s simply not a political reality, and putting it in the presentation highlights the disconnect between MDE and the legislature.)

Clearly, your adult leaders could serve you more capably. I’d like to invite you to consider Mississippi’s problems with education as legislators prepare for the opening of the next session. After all, you’ve seen those systems from the inside out. How do we fix broken school systems? How should we deal with districts that repeatedly underserve their students? What do we want schools to teach students?

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19 Responses to Making the Grade

  1. These statewide assessments serve as a hindrance; they are more focused on that than the ACT. When you focus on passing a stupid test, you miss the big purpose of high-school: to prepare students for the rigors of college. The MDE must find a way to relinquish the state assessments and start orienting around ACT prep; additionally, schools should do a better job attending to students. Instead of sending students home for fighting and other infractions, they should give them counseling and a stimulating environment.

  2. Kaelon McNeece says:

    In my personal expedition through Mississippi’s public schooling system, the biggest detractor of student engagement and success in the classroom has been criminally low enthusiasm and care of course material and students by certain teachers. I’ve known and have been close with plenty of students that, as an effect of any of their teachers’ “paper packet” style of “teaching,” have acted in many ways from losing interest in the specific subject to losing interest in public schooling as a whole. Not every teacher I’ve seen has acted like this by a long stretch, but the negative effects of some teachers left more impactful effects on students’ minds. In the Mississippi’s legislator’s position, where money can’t be thrown at the problem in the attempt to solve it, focus must be shifted towards the lack of student success in the classroom caused by a lack of student interest without leaving behind a massive price tag for the Mississippi government. The specifics towards ironing out this issue can get very murky, so in the attempt to simply propose an idea, I suggest requiring a stricter criteria for teacher selection during the hiring process. Districts that decide not to enforce this criteria and thus undeserve their students are at the mercy of the state and its choice of punishment.

  3. Dev Jaiswal says:

    In broken school systems, there is a lack of classroom enthusiasm, a lack of student-student and student-teacher interactions, and general inactivity. At my old school, boredom was the word. The few times class would be taught, it would be cut-and-dry: memorize these vocabulary terms, regurgitate, and repeat. Science classes had almost no labs, and the few that did occur were eminently safer than the narrator of Bartleby the Scrivener. Math classes were ten minutes of math and fifty minutes of Minecraft, and humanities classes were stale due to the sole viewpoint proposed being that of the teacher. Every class lacked the interactivity that has made learning exciting for me at MSMS. As it came up most prominently in the humanities classes at my old school, we were taught what to think, instead of being taught how to analyze a document and craft a persuasive argument about it. Schools should teach analytical skills and ways to bring one’s viewpoint into a conversation. I think a good way to start fixing Mississippi’s school systems is to create programs for teachers that will help them discover more innovative ways to make learning exciting in the classroom.

  4. Faith Ivy says:

    Some schools just think of their students as a number, as a way of funding. Instead of doing this, try to actually prepare the students for the future by giving them the tools they need. One way of doing this is by preparing the students for what they want to major in college. This is preparing them for a career.
    Another way is to have smaller class sizes. With smaller class sizes comes more one-on-one time with the teacher. Some students may need more time to understand a concept, so having that individualized time could help tremendously.
    The last way to help students is to offer year round schooling. With three months of summer vacation, students lose some of what they learn. If students do not keep up the skill on their own, teachers either have to go back and reteach or they just do not care and want their paycheck. Studies have shown, year round schooling is the better option because it cuts down of the dreaded “brain drain.”

  5. Alex Jones says:

    Schools today teach kids how to take tests and pass them effectively. Most schools don’t actually teach knowledge that would be practical. This is due to the fact that most children have no concept of what they want to do with their life, because there are so many options. This can be resolved by a simple thing: if we assign everyone a role in society at birth and then that role determines the job they can have. Then we can train the children for that certain role for their whole lives. Using this method may seem ineffective at first, but I am positive that nothing can go wrong if we use and keep using this method.

  6. Zion Hargro says:

    In Mississippi school districts, there is a lack of funding, care, and enthusiasm among the administration and students. We cannot blame everything on the staff, though. It starts at home. It all begins with the parents encouraging learning at an early age to their kids. If a child is not excited about learning, he or she is less likely to complain to his or her parents about the lack of teaching in the school district.
    Secondly, the administration is not always focused on the knowledge the kids gain, but more on the sports achievement and the efficiency of good test scores to fund the sports. Lots of Mississippi teachers, not all, focus on teaching just enough for the kids to get by and pass the tests, rather than teach the knowledge thoroughly that is needed to excel in higher learning. Even worse, some parents do not even care enough for their child to stop this cycle that has been going on for years in the Mississippi school districts.
    It will take a lot of courage and administration getting fired for Mississippi to improve in the education field.

  7. Ashley Nguyen says:

    When will the test prep end? These state test are ruining the school curriculum, we are constantly being told that these are vital to our survival, but what happens when the test are over? The school is so focused on having the highest test averages, but how about the children, we are sent to collage unprepared. Our test taking skills will not provide us with the experiences we need.

  8. Jacob Neal says:

    I believe that the best way to improve the state’s education, is by teaching children what’s important for their futures. In my previous school, none of the children took school seriously and acting out. This can make even the most tentative teacher feel like giving up. I have met students who think that they can just drop out of school and become a famous rapper, without any care to make a back up plan. They spend their class time talking more about the school football team rather than the materials given. Although graduation is on the incline, the low ACT scores are a result of the children’s lack of focus and care for a majority of their high-school year. So, by convincing the students of the importance of putting effort into their school life, we can have them increase their effort in their own future.

  9. The average ACT of Mississippi’s eleventh graders is a full three points lower than the 21 composite achieved by the nation’s high schoolers. Although an 18 may not be the worst score possible, Mississippi has the distinction of being the lowest scoring state on the ACT even though 100% of students have taken it. The score may not matter to students not planning to go to college, but it does to students with little experience with the standardized testing system. The students willing to work harder are not given a chance to thrive because the school systems they belong to are unconcerned about the students futures instead they are focused on how their sports teams compete or how much funding goes directly into the staffs pockets. Mississippi schools should work towards preparing their students for college and in turn, the students will give back to Mississippi which will empower the school system and improve the state’s economy.

  10. Indu Nandula says:

    Graduation rates are higher! Test grades are on the rise! Isn’t that great! And yet we’re still one of the poorest states when it comes to education. ¿Porque? Though our general edcuation may be improving, practical test-taking skills are not being implemented in the classroom. Hence, students are just regurgitating facts onto state tests, but on the ACT, they don’t really know what to expect, and are stuck at an average score of 18. Broken school systems, such as the one I come from, only care about the numbers, and the statistics. They only care about the money that will be obtained form higher rankings and higher test scores. Students aren’t people; they’re numbers on a spreadsheet, and dollar signs in the eyes of administrators. Students can usually walk into a class and expect the same thing every day: a fifty-page-long packet of test prep questions, to be answered and turned in at the end of the day, week, or month. And while students google answers and snapchat their friends about the bullshit they have to do in class everyday, teachers perch behind their desks with pointy talon-like nails and their horn-rimmed glasses, staring at their prey while they sit looking pretty and important, the smell of a cigarette wafting across a dingy classroom. This is what a broken classroom looks like. Teachers aren’t concerned about teaching so that students can learn; they teach so students can scribble satisfactory answers and score satisfactory scores to satisfy the appetites of the thirsty superintendents and the state department.

  11. Elle Smith says:

    Problems such as this have to be treated like what they are: an inside problem. There is less and less motivation among students and faculty. My mother, a Mississippi public school teacher, can testify. Children of this generation have the disgusting personality trait of entitlement. This is plaguing the nation and discouraging previous generations from always putting their best foot forward. While schools do tend to put an unreasonable amount of focus on test scores, the attitude of the students and teachers alike is what makes Mississippi a subpar state. This system would most efficiently be fixed by acting as a team rather that acting as competitors. We must start somewhere and this starting point should be within ourselves.

  12. Nique says:

    Considering the school that I originally come from they focused more on athletics rather than education. There was a way higher chance of getting recognition by being good at a sport than being smart. In a way this also helped with grades because in order to participate in athletics you have to have a certain grade. The behavior of students also altered learning. Teachers would spend instructional time correcting the kids misbehaving rather than teaching. The school system was so quick to suspend children keeping them away even more from education.

  13. Theresa Ho says:

    I believe that schools should encourage more hands on activities that correlate with more realistic jobs and careers. My school mostly encouraged the students to partake in sports because that was what they mostly spent their funding on. Partaking in a sport is good, but there is a rare chance that you would make it as a career. I feel like that schools should help students expand out in different career options instead of limiting them. There’s the typical career options, being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, musician, or athlete. These were the careers that I was personally exposed to and that was that. And honestly, I don’t think they are very realistic because of how hard it is to succeed in them. I just wish schools exposed more options for those who do not know what they want to do in life just because not everyone is extremely smart or talented. This is also for those students who do not come from privileged or exceptional schools.

  14. Sophia Pepper says:

    I believe that while there are a plethora of possible plans to help fix our education system, there isn’t simply one magic cure, even if because of nothing worse than human error. To help our low test scores, by better specializing classes, increasing teacher testing, decreasing teacher-student ratios, and/or increasing funding for educational aids could all only help but what would that do about the materials taught, about home environments, about missing class?

  15. Tyra says:

    In order to approve students academic performance, students must be aware of their potential. I have experienced moments where teachers have discouraged students and degraded them for their mischievous behavior. Instead of trying to give talk to them respectfully, the teachers scooped down to the level of a naïve teen. I feel that there should be incentives for excelling academic performance. Back when I was in middle school, every nine weeks there were trips planned for students who maintained a B average. On the first trip their were only about a handful of students. As each term passed the number of students involved in the activities increased. Lastly, students should not only perform well for incentives, they should have a self driven mindset of succeeding in life.

  16. Sabrina Solomon says:

    Though I would like to say that there is a fix for everything, some fixes are just nearly impossible. I’ve made it a life goal to fix these problems with the system, knowing it will be a lot of work. I do not believe that some tests show the students true ability in their work. Yes, we need a way to show how we are doing better and better. I feel as if we need a state-wide curriculum that would work for everyone. Possibly we make every school carry a specialty. I know that Lowndes County Public Schools, such as Franklin Academy for Medical Sciences, carry a specialty. Fixing minor issues, finding other ways to show progress, and making kids want to come to school isn’t going to fix everything, though. Some issues come from home life, where things are what they are. I wish there was a fix, but I make it my life goal to keep working towards an overall goal of helping education.

  17. Erin Williams says:

    Schools should encourage students more. At my previous school, teachers did not really care if a student did not understand a concept that they “taught”. Another thing that would help are teachers that actually have the desire to teach students instead of the desire for getting a paycheck. I believe schools should teach students things that can be used in real life, like microwaving noodles without setting off the fire alarm or balancing a checkbook along with some test taking skills. Schools prepare students for tests better than they do for life.

  18. Grace-Anne Beech says:

    In a large number of schools, there is a lack of enthusiasm and encouragement in the classroom. Students are not motivated to do well, and the blame falls on not only them, but also their teachers. A lot of schools teach to prepare students for tests, not real life application. Also, teachers frequently lack the enthusiasm about their subject that they need. They do not create hands-on, interactive learning experiences that students need to fully understand the concept. Very few schools manage to avoid the memorize and repeat style of teaching. If schools would focus on having a more hands-on, exciting environment for learning, Mississippi schools would improve tremendously.

  19. Zakkaria Reaves says:

    The only way to mend a broken school system is first, the people with the ability to assist in the train of change has to see a problem in the school system. Today, many school districts tries to give themselves the benefit of the doubt and blame the students. When in reality, it’s the people with authority. Us as students can only do so much. Most times, students don’t even have much of a voice in their schools. School districts hire whoever is in desperate need of a job and think they could uphold the responsibilities of true teachers. Teaching has to come to from the heart in order to truly be effective. You cannot be teaching simply for the pay. We need effective teachers in today’s school district. Superintendents and others with higher authority need to spend time searching for the correct people to serve us students. We need better quality teachers. Life after school is not easy!

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