In fact, we might need to learn something from the Magnolia State!
And, they are doing it at lower cost, too!
One of the big shockers to come out of the new 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results is the way the state of Mississippi had caught up to, and arguably surpassed, the Bluegrass State for fourth grade reading and mathematics.
Even more interesting, there might be some good reasons why Mississippi is pulling off this upset like legislation that pushed good reading and more charter schools.
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According to a 2016 article by Laurie J. Smith, who was the education and workforce policy adviser to the Magnolia State’s governor at that time, Mississippi started to enact some pretty important education legislation beginning in 2013. One key piece of that legislation per Smith was the Literacy-Based Promotion Act. It included policy to help students who struggle early with reading. Among other things, there were increases in allowed charter schools, too.
So, let’s see how that impacted reading in Mississippi. Figure 1 tells the story when we compare overall average NAEP reading scores for Kentucky to those in Mississippi over the years. The scores were obtained from the NAEP Data Explorer.
In Figure 1 it is easy to see that Kentucky steadily outscored Mississippi for many years after the very first NAEP Grade 4 Reading assessment was held in 1992. In fact, in every year from 1992 to 2017, the score differences were bigger than the sampling error in the NAEP, so the Kentucky scores for those years are shown in bold italics to emphasize they are definitely larger than the Mississippi scores.
But, notice what started to happen to Mississippi’s reading scores after that 2013 legislation came along. Compare that to what happened to Kentucky’s scores over the same time period. Those very different trends allowed Mississippi to essentially catch up and tie Kentucky in 2019 where the scores are not statistically significantly different and actually should be considered as a tie.
Now, our regular readers are going to wonder why we are looking at the “all student” scores to do comparisons across states as we have written extensively about the fact that such comparisons are often misleading due to very different student demographics in different states. That is certainly true for a Kentucky to Mississippi comparison because in 2019 Kentucky was still 75% white in its fourth grade NAEP sample but Mississippi was only 44% white. So, by only looking at the overall average score, what we really do is match up a lot of white students from Kentucky against minority kids in Mississippi. That will not give us the full picture.
So, here comes Figure 2, which looks only at white student scores in each state. This is more apples to apples for comparison purposes.
Interestingly, back in the early NAEP Grade 4 reading tests, Mississippi whites scored a bit higher than Kentucky, but the differences were not statistically significant. Kentucky’s white fourth graders then moved ahead by a statistically significant amount only to lose that edge in 2003. But, the Bluegrass state moved ahead again by 2009 and stayed ahead through 2015. Then, those 2013 bills in Mississippi started to take effect. There was another statistical tie in 2017 and now Mississippi has surged ahead for white Grade 4 NAEP Reading by a statistically significant amount, indicated by that state’s 2019 score being shown in bold italics.
The situation is even clearer when we look only at black student scores, as shown in Figure 3.
Except for a momentary dip in Kentucky’s black NAEP Grade 4 Reading in 1994, the Bluegrass state’s black students consistently outscored blacks in Mississippi by a statistically significant amount throughout the entire period until 2017.
But, now things have changed. Again, it looks like the 2013 legislation helped. While Kentucky entered a definite slide for its black NAEP Grade 4 Reading scores after 2015, Mississippi was doing exactly the opposite. Wow!
By the way, there were somewhat similar impacts in math for fourth grade NAEP, too.
Figure 4 shows the “all student” average results for both states
Again, Kentucky consistently outscored Mississippi by a statistically significant amount until 2019 when we look at “all student” scores. But, Mississippi tied us in the new results.
Breaking it down by race shows Mississippi gaining, too. Figure 5 shows the math results for whites.
This has been more of a tie race over time, at least since 2007. But, in the past two NAEP assessments, Mississippi whites definitely moved ahead of Kentucky.
For blacks in NAEP Grade 4 math, the picture is somewhat similar, though the ties are fewer, as shown in Figure 6.
Mississippi’s blacks never statistically significantly outscored Kentucky’s from the inception of state testing with NAEP Grade 4 Math until 2015. In fact, in a number of years Kentucky’s blacks outscored Mississippi’s by a statistically significant amount.
That all changed in 2017 when Mississippi’s blacks definitely moved ahead.
To sum up, whether we are talking about whites or blacks, Mississippi now is besting Kentucky.
But, it is important to note that the latest finance data available from the National Education Association (NEA) in its Rankings of the States 2018 and Estimates of School Statistics 2019 in Table B-6, AVERAGE SALARIES OF PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS, shows Kentucky’s average salary for public school teachers in 2017-18 was $52,952. Mississippi only paid its teachers $44,926 in the same year!
In Table C-1, PUBLIC SCHOOL REVENUE RECEIPTS PER STUDENT IN FALL ENROLLMENT in that same NEA report, it shows Kentucky got $11,772 per pupil but Mississippi only got $9,878 in 2017-18.
Do you hear that? MUCH less money…notably better performance!
And, don’t try to use the poverty excuse. According to a table from the US Census Bureau that can be accessed from this link, 16.9% of Kentuckians were below the poverty level in 2018 but the figure for Mississippi was 19.7%.
Also, when we talk about achievement gaps, minorities are always a concern. So, don’t forget my earlier comments that in 2019 the NAEP Data Explorer shows Kentucky was still 75% white in its fourth grade NAEP sample but Mississippi was only 44% white.
The bottom line here is that something is going on down in Mississippi and Kentucky needs to pay some attention to that. They seem to be passing legislation that matters for kids, and they are doing it at notably lower costs than what our now lower-performing system is absorbing.