Public school educators have a great, and yet daunting, task in front of them each day – teaching any student that walks through the door.

You’ll often hear teachers and administrators alike talk about how that’s the double-edged sword of public education.

Diversity in the classroom is an incredible thing that can lead to the exposure of different cultures and backgrounds, providing a vital experience for students to function in a constantly changing society.

But that diversity can also present a significant challenge when it comes to instruction. Teachers must use many different strategies to reach students who have many different learning styles or be faced with creating gaps in achievement among certain students.

That gap is what Mississippi education administrators are working to focus on in the next decade with an ambitious plan to do just that by 2025. And rightfully so. If not addressed, achievement gaps among student groups can quickly expand to create a pitfall in which students of color or lower socioeconomic class can never escape.

The results from assessments taken last year, however, show that most gaps among student groups grew wider – a clear indicator that even more attention should be focused on such an important area for our students.

Black and Hispanic students fell further behind their white counterparts in proficiency in English language arts and math, as reported by the Associated Press. Poor students fell further behind those who aren’t poor. And students with disabilities fell further behind students without disabilities.

This marks the second year Mississippi has produced a report on achievement divides, part of a federal push to make sure high scores among some students don’t disguise problems among disadvantaged groups.

The share of white students scoring as proficient on math tests jumped from 45.8 percent to 52.7 percent, while the share of African-American students reaching that benchmark rose from 17.9 percent to 23.5 percent. That meant, even at the higher score levels, the distance between white student proficiency levels and black student proficiency levels grew, a pattern that held true for most other measures, as reported by the AP.

Gaps did narrow between multiracial and white students. And students with limited English skills narrowed the distance between themselves and native English speakers on math tests, although not on English language arts tests.

The Oxford School District saw its gaps narrow last year, leading the rest of the region and state by example. With Oxford having some of the biggest rifts between performance by rich and poor students and by black and white students, the work being done there represents a commitment to the foundations public education was built around and a testament to the hard work and dedication of students, teachers and administrators. Superintendent Brian Harvey admitted he’s not proud of where the district is currently, but is “proud we’re moving in the right direction.”

With a clear focus on closing these gaps, Mississippi has an opportunity to prepare all of its students for a bright future.

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