For all of the standardized testing in schools these days, there’s only one exam that measures student achievement across the entire country. It’s the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is actually a set of exams periodically given to representative samples of students in all 50 states and D.C. every. The NAEP tests that get the most attention assess the reading and math skills of 4th and 8th-graders every two years. They are used to compare performance across states, demographic groups, and time.
When NAEP debuted in 1992, Mississippi’s students finished near the bottom across all measures. In the last decade, Mississippi’s scores have been on the rise, but they have always been lower than the national average.
No longer! The 2019 results are in, and Mississippi’s 4th graders tied the national average in reading and math, and 8th graders came as close as ever. It’s all the more impressive considering the declines that most states experienced. Mississippi was the only state to make statistically significant gains on three of the four exams.
The results allow for demographic breakouts, and they show that Mississippi’s improvement is broad-based. While there are still racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, Mississippi saw faster gains among students of color and those eligible for free and reduced price lunches.
We shouldn’t get too carried away with the results. Mississippi is only at the national mean, which declined on some measures. And the tests are broken up and given to a small sample of Mississippi’s students — 2,400 4th graders and 2,200 8th graders — so the results should be interpreted with a generous margin for error.
It should not lull policymakers into complacency about the very real problems that plague our schools, from concentrated poverty to underfunding to teacher shortages. These results show that Mississippi’s kids and teachers are improving in spite of these things. Think what they’re capable of with more resources and support!
The electoral junior college
There’s a cloud that has been hovering over the most competitive governor’s race in 16 years, and it looks to stay until election day — or beyond. Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution — the one drafted expressly to disenfranchise black citizens — contains a trapdoor provision that requires candidates for statewide office to win a majority of the popular vote and a plurality of the vote in more than half of the state’s 122 House districts. If one or both of those conditions is not met, the House gets to pick the winner. Practically speaking, this electoral college system locks out a Democrat from being elected under the GOP-drawn district lines. Quantitative models have shown that a Democrat would have to garner at least 55% of the vote in order to win a majority of House districts.
A lawsuit filed in federal court challenged this system as a violation of the “one person, one vote” principle that the Supreme Court used to strike down a similar law in Georgia in 1962. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Jordan ruled today that he would let the provision stand for the moment, but he signaled “grave concerns” about the constitutionality of the electoral college if it were to be judged on the merits. Expect the plaintiffs to continue the litigation no matter what happens next Tuesday.
Mississippi and Louisiana are two of only three states that hold their statewide elections this year, which seems to be confusing to people outside the state. First, the national voter-advocacy group Vote.org paid for billboards in Mississippi encouraging people to vote on November 16 — the date of Louisiana’s elections. Mississippians vote on November 5. (They’ve since corrected the date.)
Then this morning, with scores of people already in line for Donald Trump’s rally with Tate Reeves in Tupelo, the president tweeted, “Louisiana, I’ll see you tonight. Big Rally for Eddie R. He will be a GREAT GOVERNOR. Early voting starts! @EddieRispone.”
Must’ve been another Deep (South) State conspiracy.