Mississippi public schools are not preparing students for success in college and beyond, and the problem is more extensive than we think. I graduated in 2011 as a high-performing student at a high-performing public school. Nonetheless, I didn’t learn to separate blocks of text into paragraphs until I was in the seventh grade when my father taught me at home. In high school, my longest paper assigned had a 10-page maximum. My first paper in college required 10 pages, absolute minimum. Yet, having attended one of the “better” Mississippi public high schools, my odds for success were far greater than some of my college classmates who attended failing schools across our state. Several of these peers had only written a paper 4 pages long, while others had never written a research paper at all. Because of this lack of preparation, many of my peers enrolled in remedial classes, which do not count for credit, to ready themselves for the upper-level course work required for their majors. My peers had to learn in college what they should have learned in high school. Data suggests that these experiences are common to many college students across Mississippi.

In 2013, 95% of Mississippi’s graduating class took the ACT, but only 12% of Mississippi students were prepared for college in English, math, reading, and science. How is it possible, therefore, for Mississippi’s state test scores to show a majority of students are proficient in English and math? In 2012, 57 percent of students scored proficient on Mississippi’s 10th grade English test and 75 percent were proficient on Mississippi’s Algebra exam. This math doesn’t add up. A study titled Road to College Readiness by the Mississippi Economic Policy Center found that 22,000 students entered Mississippi colleges in the fall of 2011 unprepared to take college-level classes. These numbers show that the old preparation and standards are failing students. How can Mississippi students be expected to compete on a national or global level when we are missing the mark in high school?

We need to raise the bar. Mississippi owes its students a quality education that prepares us for success after the 12th grade. It is the school’s job to ensure that students are prepared for the high demands of college-level work as well as the shifting demands of the work force. Mississippians like myself and my peers deserve better.

Mississippi made strides towards this goal when the state adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010. The new set of rigorous standards aim to challenge students across the nation, preparing them for college and career. They seek to eliminate the discrepancy in education among states.

These standards are precisely what the students of Mississippi need. Many groups, whether for or against the standards, have spent a great deal of time and money explaining to the public what the standards are and what they mean for Mississippi. I can tell you what higher standards mean for Mississippi students.

The Common Core State Standards are a path to excellence and a brighter future. They present Mississippi students with the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Higher demands in the classroom will foster generations of innovative and critical thinkers while equipping Mississippi students with the ability to capitalize on their talents. I am glad that Mississippi decided to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Higher standards will allow Mississippi students to show—contrary to some people’s beliefs—we are intelligent, productive members of society; some of us have simply been poorly educated and stifled by low expectations.

The Common Core State Standards are what is best for Mississippi students. In a state that consistently ranks last on all the good lists and first of all the bad lists, Mississippi needs the heightened challenge of rigorous standards in education. As a Mississippian, I am tired of being the butt of every joke. I am tired of being told “I can’t” because of my geographic location. The standards are the beginning of a movement to help raise Mississippi students above the line that has held them down for far too long.

To learn more about the Common Core State Standards in Mississippi visit www.commoncorems.org.

Kaitlyn Barton is a Public Policy Leadership student at the University of Mississippi and the president of the Mississippi First-Ole Miss College Chapter. She can be reached at kaitlyn@mississippifirst.org. This is the first blog post in a series of posts dedicated to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. These post are leading up to an event MSF will be hosting on November 6, 2014 titled, “Common Ground for Common Core.”

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