In some Mississippi school districts — even high-performing ones — there’s a big difference in academic achievement between the rich and poor, black and white, and disabled and not disabled, a new state report says.
The state Department of Education published numbers Thursday that are part of a federal push to make sure high scores among students at large don’t disguise problems in subgroups.
“In order to ensure that all students are proficient and showing growth and that every student is graduating from high school ready for college and career, we must begin addressing achievement gaps in Mississippi,” state Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement.
Achievement gaps happen when one group of students outperforms another group, and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant.
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Statewide, African-American students run 29 percentage points behind white students in academic proficiency, while poor students trail richer ones by 27 percentage points. Students with disabilities trail those without by 25 percentage points. Those gaps are not limited to Mississippi, although state assessment director Walt Drane said they may be a little wider in the Magnolia State.
Most South Mississippi school districts scored near the state averages, but most had a subgroup or two with a higher gap than average. Bay St. Louis-Waveland, Moss Point and Poplarville and districts did not have any groups with a wider-than average gap, but that’s not necessarily a positive.
Across the state, the achievement gap tends to be most severe in districts that serve a diverse mix of students, with some very high achievers. Even students on the wrong end of a divide in higher-performing districts can be scoring higher than students in lower-performing districts. On the other hand, gaps are narrow in some districts because all students are performing poorly.
“D and F districts, they’re basically leaving everybody behind because they have no gaps,” Drane said. Moss Point was one of those districts, showing the lowest gaps in South Mississippi.
On the other hand, Gulfport School District showed highest proficiency gaps on the Coast, and near the highest in the state. The district had five out of six subgroups with a significantly higher gap than the state average. The district’s biggest gap was between black and white students, with about a 35 percent difference in both English and math.
Superintendent Glen East said the district has been trying to raise achievement among black male students. He hails the statewide focus on the question.
“I think it’s very important data and I think our state needs to continue looking at that,” East told the Associated Press.
Some high-performing districts have narrower gaps, though. Jackson County Curriculum Director Penny Westfaul said her district has worked to make sure lower performing students improved, which may have helped close gaps.
Attention has focused on Oxford’s achievement gap in recent months — which are the highest in the state — after school officials considered a separate, voluntary school for low-achieving students, modeled on similar schools in Virginia. Some community members interpreted that proposal to mean that affluent Oxford was going to build a school to segregate poor black students, prompting an uproar and leading the school system to quickly announce in September that it would stop looking at the idea.
Superintendent Brian Harvey said that despite September’s controversy he’s still focused on helping students who are black, poor, or have disabilities to score better, but needs help from outside the school.
“We have to change the culture in a positive way and start with the expectation that all communities can achieve,” Harvey said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Achievement gap between subgroup and rest of the school population
Students with disabilities
Limited English proficiency
State average English proficiency
State average math proficiency