Set realistic education goals

Goal-setting is a delicate business if you are trying to use it to motivate a person, or lots of persons.

Set the goal too high and people get discouraged when they can’t get anywhere close to it. Set the goal too low and they don’t push themselves, since they can reach the goal without much effort.

It’s commendable that Mississippi’s Board of Education erred on the high side, but still we wonder how it thinks that 70 percent of this state’s public school students can be graded proficient on standardized tests within the next eight years.

To reach that mark, at least on the test judged to be the most legitimate benchmark of academic achievement, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Mississippi’s students would have to more than double where they presently stand. No more than 30 percent of the state’s fourth-graders and eighth-graders were proficient at math or reading the last time they were tested, in 2015.

When the NAEP was given two years ago, this state was ecstatic about raising its fourth-grade proficiency rate from 26 to 30 percent in math, and from 21 to 26 percent in reading. To reach 70 percent by 2025, however, it would demand doubling that gain every two-year test cycle for the next five times the test is administered. It’s not going to happen — or at least not going to happen without the worst test-cheating scandal this country has ever seen, or a much easier test with a much lower definition of proficiency.

Given that this 70 percent goal is unreachable, it baffles us why it was set so high. It’s like the Board of Education resurrected the failed No Child Left Behind federal law, whose proficiency goals everyone knew were unrealistic and from which states scrambled to get waivers almost from the start.

A more realistic goal would be for Mississippi students to reach the national averages, which are about 10 points higher than the state’s. That would be plenty ambitious.