Education Secretary says state needs more rigorous coursework

Published 12:56 am Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mississippi needs to step up its public school course offerings to include advanced-placement classes, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has told the state Board of Education.

Spellings, who made the recommendation while meeting with the board Thursday, praised the state’s method of tracking student achievement and its work to increase graduation requirements. She did stress that changes are needed to improve Mississippi’s 26.6 percent dropout rate.

The state is currently addressing those issues with new state tests this spring that are tougher than previous years. Officials said the tests will reflect a new, tougher curriculum.

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The state Department of Education has also been addressing the issue of dropouts. The department has been working with communities to encourage religious, business, civic and community leaders to be involved in keeping students in school.

Since the beginning of January, Spellings has been traveling across the country to get comments from state education officials. The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act before a new president is elected in November is up in the air. Even if the act is not reauthorized, current mandates will remain in effect.

“We may or may not get it done this year,” Spellings said. “If we can’t, were still going to have school.”

Spellings said one of the bigger changes she’d like to see with the act is making sanctions different for districts that chronically fail students versus those that have only one or two problem areas.