Despite more money being spent on K-12 education nearly every year by taxpayers, Mississippi students continue to struggle with the ACT test as compared to their peers nationally.
Mississippi was ranked third from the bottom among the 20 states where 100 percent of all high school students take the test. Magnolia State students scored an average composite of 18.6 on a scale from one to 36. This was the same score as last year and up slightly (18.4) from 2016, but down from a score of 19 in 2015.
In 2013, the composite score for Mississippi students was 19.
Only Nevada (average composite score of 17.7) and South Carolina (18.3 composite average) were worse than Mississippi. The national composite average was 20.8, down from 21 last year.
The ACT test is designed to assess the academic performance and college readiness of high school students using four benchmarks (English, mathematics, reading and science). Every year, the non-profit organization that administers the test, ACT Inc., releases a report on national performance on the test.
The report said the percentage of students nationally that met or exceeded math standards was down to only 40 percent of tested students, the lowest mark since 2004. In 2012, 46 percent of all ACT test takers met the mathematics standard, which is geared around being able to succeed in a first-year college algebra class.
Only 21 percent of Mississippi students met or exceeded the math standard, tied with Nevada for worst among the 20 states with 100 percent participation on the ACT test by high school students.
In science, only 20 percent of Mississippi students satisfied or exceeded the standard, which was tied for second-worst among 20 states. The number of students that earned passing grades for science nationally was down one point, to 36 percent, from last year.
As for the benchmark in English, only 47 percent of Mississippi students made or exceeded the grade, which was fourth-worst among 20 states. Nationally, only 60 percent of students met or exceeded the standards in English, down from 64 percent in 2015.
Mississippi students scored poorly in reading, with only 29 percent meeting or exceeding the standard. This was third worst among 20 states. Only 46 percent of students nationally earned passing grades for reading and that's down one point from last year.
The number of students nationally that aren't ready for college according to the ACT test's four benchmarks is rising.
Out of 1.9 million graduating seniors nationwide took the test in 2018, 35 percent didn't meet even one of the benchmark standards.
In 2014, it was 31 percent of test takers that didn't pass any of the four benchmarks and 33 percent last year.
Last year, Mississippi taxpayers spent $1.996 billion in general fund revenue on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is the primary funding mechanism for K-12 education in the state. About 51 percent of K-12 funding is from state funds.
This figure — which doesn't include other spending on K-12 such as the Education Enhancement Fund and appropriations for the Third Grade Reading Gate program — represents 35.9 percent of the state's $5.54 billion general fund budget.
Last year, K-12 funding was cut for the first time in six years by the Legislature. K-12 education spending had increased every year from fiscal 2012 to 2017, growing from $2.02 billion in 2012 to $2.24 billion. This despite the number of students in Mississippi public schools declining from 492,586 in 2013 to 477,633 this year, a decrease of 3.05 percent.
Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright is the nation’s highest paid leader of a state school system and makes $307,000 per year. She was hired by the state Board of Education in 2013.