In fact, we might be able to learn something from the Magnolia State!
And, they are doing it at lower cost, too!
This is an updated blog from one I posted back on November 2, 2019. Three months later, thanks to the absence of interest and coverage by Kentucky’s mainstream media (outside of my appearance on Kentucky Tonight on December 16, 2019), I am finding that a notable number of Kentuckians, including those in education, have no clue that what I talk about below has happened. As a result, it seems like a good idea to repost with some updated information.
To begin, one of the big shockers to come out of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results is the way the state of Mississippi 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 pulled off this upset, including legislation that pushes good reading instruction. We should be paying attention.
If you want to learn more about this than the media seem interested in telling you, just click the “Read more” link.
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.
Shortly, we’ll see how that impacted reading in Mississippi as of 2019, six years later.
First, however, I need to point out that the graphs in Figures 2 to 7 below show scores from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress. They are pretty much constructed the way a number of graphs you can find in actual NAEP publications are created, including this example in Figure 1, which which is taken from the “A First Look: 2013 Mathematics and Reading” report.
Notice that the main parts of the graphs in Figure 1 have a truncated Y-Axis scale for this 500-point test. For example, the Grade 4 graph’s Y-Axis only runs from 200 to 230. This magnification of the scale is used so the differences in the data over time are more evident.
There are only a few differences in format between my graphs below and Figure 1. I don’t show the minimum possible score of zero for the NAEP on the Y-Axis and the maximum possible score line for 500 along with those truncation hash marks. The reason is that Microsoft Excel doesn’t offer a way to generate graphs exactly like Figure 1 and I think our readers are intelligent enough to understand that the figures below, just like the meat of the graph in Figure 1, are expanded so you can see details more clearly. Never the less, believe it or not, some folks on Twitter got really upset about this graphing approach, but I am not going to take a lot of extra time to manually sketch in a couple of lines on the graphs that don’t really change the picture.
With that said, let’s look at the results for Kentucky and Mississippi on the 2019 NAEP Grade 4 math and reading assessments.
Figure 2 tells the story when we compare overall average Grade 4 NAEP reading scale scores over the years for all students in Kentucky to those in Mississippi. The scores were obtained from the NAEP Data Explorer.
In Figure 2 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 statistically significantly larger than the Mississippi scores.
Now, notice what started to happen to Mississippi’s reading scores after that 2013 legislation I mentioned came along in the Magnolia State. Compare 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 because 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 3, 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. So, call that a tie. 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, the 2013 legislation 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 more dramatic when we look only at black student scores for reading, as shown in Figure 4.
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!
What happened in math? There were somewhat similar impacts in math for fourth grade NAEP, too.
Figure 5 shows the “all student” average results over time for both states in NAEP Grade 4 math.
Again, Kentucky consistently outscored Mississippi by a statistically significant amount until 2019 when we look at “all student” scores. Mississippi tied us in the newest results.
Breaking it down by race shows Mississippi recently gaining in math, too. Figure 6 shows the math results for whites.
This has been more of a tie over time, at least since 2007. But, in the past two NAEP assessments, Mississippi’s 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 7.
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 and then stayed ahead in the latest 2019 test cycle for NAEP Grade 4 math.
To sum up, whether we are talking about whites or blacks, Mississippi now is besting Kentucky.
It’s worth a 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, 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!
But, could the cost of living in both states offset this rather large difference? Well, National Public Radio posted an interesting article in 2018 comparing teachers’ salaries across all the states in both raw numbers and in numbers corrected for differences in the cost of living in those states as of 2016. The full NPR graph is too large to show here (though readily available at the link), but I extracted the data for Kentucky and Mississippi for you in Figure 8.
Interestingly, when you compare the unadjusted salary levels in both states (the numbers in light gray), the difference is $8,922. When you compare the difference in the adjusted salaries in both states (numbers for the dark blue lines shown in black type), the difference is virtually identical at $8,927. So, there isn’t much of a difference in the costs of living in these two states as of 2016, anyway. It’s not a lot cheaper to live in Mississippi.
I also found a difference in per pupil education revenue in both states. Table C-1, PUBLIC SCHOOL REVENUE RECEIPTS PER STUDENT IN FALL ENROLLMENT in that same NEA report shows Kentucky got $11,772 per pupil in total education revenue but Mississippi only got $9,878 in 2017-18.
So, whether we look at teacher pay or overall education spending, it looks like Mississippi is starting to get better bang for the buck, at least based on this data.
By the way, forget a 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%.
When we talk about achievement gaps, minorities are always a concern. That’s a problem Mississippi’s superintendent of instruction told me is still on the agenda in her state just like it is in ours. But, as you can see in the tables above, Mississippi does seem to be making a bit more progress for its black students compared to Kentucky.
It’s also worth noting 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. So, the Magnolia State faces notably more challenges in that area, too.
The bottom line here is not to jump on Kentucky’s teachers, though some teachers have been taking my comments that way. The truth is that I don’t think our teachers have been given the tools and advantages they deserve to make them more effective, starting with such basic things as Ed School programs not showing how to teach reading properly, as I’ve discussed before.
Mississippi faced exactly the same problems, but they began to deal with them in in 2013. Kentucky has yet to take any similar course of action and actually seems to still be in a degree of denial about some of its problems.
My closing point is that something is going on down in Mississippi that could benefit our kids, and our teachers, too. Kentucky needs to pay attention to that. But, so far, this story is largely getting a cold shoulder in the Bluegrass State, hence this updated reposting of my earlier blog because BIPPS thinks Kentuckians deserve to know about this story and we need to at least consider what Mississippi is doing. To be sure, the Kentucky Board of Education heard a very little bit about this today, but whether the board will do anything about it, like inviting the Mississippi Superintendent of Education to talk to them about what’s going on in her state, remains to be seen.