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Mississippi has taken important steps to help prepare students for success in higher education, but more needs to be done to address disparities, according to a recently released report.

The Blueprint for College Readiness, released last month by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), examined which states adopted policies the commission identified as critical to college and career readiness. According to the report, Mississippi has addressed several of these policies but still has opportunity for improvement so that students are more successful after high school.

The Blueprint recommends 10 policies to states, including a match up between high school graduation and college admission requirements, offering college-level Advanced Placement classes and making sure core classes are transferable between colleges. ECS, a non-profit that tracks trends in state education, believes that these policies will increase the likelihood that students are admitted to college or are ready for a career after high school.

Students at The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science take notes during a science class. Students at the state-funded residential high school have access to laboratory equipment that rivals most colleges. (Photo by Jackie Mader)

Mississippi has adopted six of these strategies, such as the alignment of minimum high school graduation requirements with state college admission demands. Currently, only five other states have done this, according to the report. ECS director of communications, Amy Skinner, said this allows high school students to demonstrate college readiness before they graduate.

“That gives students peace of mind that they graduated from high school with subjects and units completed that are going to help them successfully transition in college,” Skinner said.

Related: New standards seek to measure what students actually know

Mississippi is one of 36 states that allows a student’s associate degree to transfer to any other public institution in the state. This allows students to transition to four-year schools without having to retake any courses.

Although the report shows Mississippi is enforcing many of the policies which improve student achievement, it also recommends ways to better prepare kids for college and careers. For instance, the state should develop a clear definition of college and career readiness on its school report card, a measure of how well individual public schools educate students. In Tennessee, for example, the state defines college and career readiness in its own report card as “the knowledge and skills needed for entry-level work and college freshmen coursework [and] success whether pursuing a career or a college education.”

Angela Bass, deputy director of policy at Mississippi First, an organization that advocates for educational achievement and improved teen health, said Mississippi was still not doing enough.

“There’s a lot of data that tells us we’re not doing what needs to be done,” she said.

Related: Report: Better health and child care could mean more Mississippi college graduates

Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that in 2011, 32 percent of high school students in Mississippi didn’t graduate on time, 13 percent higher than the national average.

State test scores also suggest that students may not be prepared for more challenging classes. In the 2013-14 school year, only 72 percent of students in Mississippi passed the state’s high school English exam, and 83 percent passed the state’s high school math exam. Of the more than 3,200 students that took an AP exam that year, less than 35 percent scored a passing mark of 3, 4, or 5, according to data from College Board, which administers the exams. Although Mississippi also offers college tests like the ACT, the average score was only 19, two points below the national average.

More than 42 percent of freshmen in Mississippi need remediation at two-year colleges, and roughly 21 percent require it at four- year schools, according to a report from Complete College America, a non-profit focused on helping people attain degrees or career certificates.

Bass, of Mississippi First, has also heard from students who work with the organization.

“We’ve had students who have worked at remediation centers and watched [other] students drop out because they just can’t keep up with the coursework,” she said.

She suggested increasing the rigor of K-12 curriculums so that students are more prepared for advanced coursework when they begin college.

“We definitely need to ramp up our efforts in making sure kids can be prepared for college, and then when they get there they can persist through to graduation,” Bass said.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Mississippi.

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Kayleigh Skinner is a graduate of The University of Mississippi. During her time at Ole Miss she contributed regularly to the school’s publication The Daily Mississippian and city newspaper The Oxford...

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