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Jillian Smart posing in front of The 2018 American Small Business Championship banner (Mississippi Academic Assessment)
Jillian Smart, founder of Jackson Education Support, writes that Jackson Public Schools students are making academic gains in statewide testing despite the negative impacts of COVID-19, but that students have room to grow, saying "now is our opportunity to take a fresh approach to partnership and collaboration for educational excellence." Photo courtesy Jillian Smart

On the Come Up: Mississippi Academic Achievement Exceeds Pre-Pandemic Levels

The latest statewide academic assessment results from the Mississippi Department of Education are out, and they show student achievement exceeding pre-pandemic levels in English language arts and science and nearly tying in mathematics. Overall, students made significant progress between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years, as schools focused on overcoming the “coronavirus slide” and addressing declines in overall student achievement.

This is great news and definitely a cause for celebration. It’s wonderful to witness the resilience of Mississippi youth. But a deeper dive into the data underscores the need for progress, both throughout the state and here in Jackson.

The disruption and stress of the pandemic is affecting the learning and performance of students across the country. Prior to the pandemic, Mississippi students, teachers and schools began to achieve historic academic gains, and the come-up is strong for much of the state.

Graph of Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) from years 2016-2022
Statewide results from the 2021-2022 Mississippi Academic Assessment Program show that student achievement has exceeded pre-pandemic levels in English language arts and science and is nearly tied in mathematics. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Education

For example, statewide, 44% of high-school students who took the end-of-year English II exam scored either proficient or advanced. In Jackson Public Schools, only 26.5% did so. For Algebra I, the difference was even greater, with nearly 65% of middle-school and high-school students statewide scoring either proficient or advanced, compared with 44% in Jackson. Of even greater concern, only 1% of JPS students scored at the top level.

Education, Economic Development and Equity

Better-educated citizens make better decisions about the future of our state, nation and world. That is why I am passionate about the link between education and economic development, and the equitable solutions needed to bridge performance gaps. Ten years ago, I launched Jackson Education Support to put that passion to work, helping students, test-takers and educators with learning tools, workshops and private coaching. My work involves connecting with stakeholders to empower young learners to become more independent learners, better problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

Graph of Statewide Assessment Results Show Student Achievement Rebounding to Pre-Pandemic Levels (Mississippi Academic assessment)

I see progress every day, both with individual students striving to learn and improve and with our community’s commitment to provide an environment in which every student can learn and access resources that meet individual college and career needs.

While the pandemic has had significant effects on learning, we must continue to connect students with tailored solutions and supports to thrive. During the back-to-school season, anxieties—such as how to keep from falling behind or how teachers set students up for the lives envisioned for themselves—dampened their excitement about the new school year. Students, parents and caregivers are eager to stay on track, but they are unsure of how to maintain this positive momentum. The following are a few key tactics that can help set students up for success:

  • Set SMART goals. To help accomplish big goals like making honor roll or getting a good score on the ACT, it is important to set smaller, actionable steps that build consistency and create attainable targets. For example, setting aside one hour of homework or practice test prep time every evening or reviewing papers on set days each week.
  • Know when it is time to ask for help. Parents, if your child is struggling with their classwork or exam prep, consider the need for extra support through tutoring or customized learning. Organizations like mine offer custom support, connect students with personalized tutoring and exam preparation. Specialized training is also available for parents and educators looking to support their students.
  • Engage in Facebook groups and create your own chat groups to get inspired with new ideas to drive your child’s learning and success. You can use social media to connect with the Parent-Teacher Organization at your child’s school and take note of upcoming events and programs.
  • Build an action plan. If your child is looking to pursue higher education, work with them to determine what the requirements are and create an action plan with deadlines to hold them accountable and help them stay on track toward their dream. If they are taking the ACT or SAT exam, ensure that they are working well in advance to prepare for exam day.
  • Follow your school and other educational organizations on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest strategies for success. On our Facebook page, we share tips, ideas and discussion on education topics, from creating a successful school routine to confidence-building strategies. Through videos, online events and community discussion, we work to help educators and families foster positive learning environments for students of all ages.

The Mississippi Department of Education will soon release the accountability grades for the 2021-2022 school year on Sept. 29, 2022, but we do not need to wait to take action.

Now is our opportunity to take a fresh approach to partnership and collaboration for educational excellence. Let’s make a renewed commitment to take advantage of every opportunity to build supportive learning communities. Together, we can use recent successes as the launching pad for even more success.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members, nor endorse any services mentioned within. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints. 

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