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Are our schools doing better or worse?

We’ve seen conflicting reports on progress in Mississippi’s schools.

This week, scores for all states on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” were released by the U.S. Department of Education. Sadly, the numbers reveal that the academic performance of children across the nation including Mississippi has fallen over the past two years.

But didn’t Mississippi’s own education report card show record improvement in school letter grades just a few days ago? Yep.

Let’s look at NAEP first. Normally administered every two years to a representative sample of 4th and 8th grade students in each state, this was the first NAEP release since 2019 because last year’s scheduled test was postponed due to COVID.

Nationally, the average math score for 4th graders fell 5 points, while the score for 8th graders dropped 8 points. These represent the largest declines ever recorded in that subject. The share of students that have been declared “proficient” dropped from 34% to 26% in 8th grade math. In reading, the average scores for 4th and 8th graders fell as well. This year’s results continued a downward trend, as scores also fell between 2017 and 2019. Overall, reading scores are at the same level as in 1992, the first year of the exam.

In Mississippi, NAEP scores reveal that our students also have not recovered from pandemic-related school closures, as three of the four testing areas showed performance declines. Fourth grade reading scores held steady, but 4th grade math fell more than the national average, and 8th grade math scores fell to a similar degree as the national average.

Before the pandemic, Mississippi students were making great progress, showing some of the strongest growth in NAEP scores of any state in the nation and receiving national recognition for it. And if we’re looking for a silver lining in this week’s scores, it’s that Mississippi’s performance dip is less severe than the national average, for the most part.

So why did our state accountability scores show so many districts improving? It’s not surprising that student performance would decline during the greatest

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