Itawamba students beat state average in tests

PencilsEDITOR’S NOTE: For a school-by-school breakdown of the recently-released test results, see page 6A of the Aug. 27 edition of The Itawamba County Times.

Itawamba County has received its statewide test scores for the 2013-2014 year, which reveal a somewhat expected decline in percentages as schools push forward with teaching the new Common Core Standards.

That said, the scores, released Tuesday, show the Itawamba County schools holding their own even under the weight of adopting new standards, which don’t follow the same testing criteria as those tested on last year.

Taking a quick look at the numbers, it seems most of Itawamba’s students performed well on state tests this year. Both the curriculum and subject area tests are graded on a four-tiered scale: Minimal, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The bottom ranking means those students don’t demonstrate the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle the respective subject at a higher grade level; the top ranking shows that the student performs consistently better than what’s needed to be successful at the next grade level.

In nearly all areas, Itawamba County students performed better than the state average. The district’s overall lowest scoring area remains Language Arts; it’s overall highest areas are math and science.

On the Mississippi Curriculum Test-2, which tests third through eighth grade students’ math and language skills, Itawamba students performed well overall, exceeding the state average in nearly every grade and category.

For example, 75.5 percent of Itawamba County’s sixth grade students scored either Proficient or Advanced on their math tests, a full 17.4 percent higher than the state average. The only grade and subject that failed to surpass the state average was fourth grade language arts. At a 56.7 percent, Itawamba County students fell less than a full percentage point shy of meeting the state’s average of Proficient or Advanced ratings.

Finally, Itawamba County’s fifth and eighth grade students who took the Mississippi Science Test, performed far better than the statewide average. There were 11 percent more fifth grade students who earned rankings of Proficient or Advanced than the state average; in eighth grade, that percentage is 17 percent.

What’s yet to be seen is how high school students performed on Subject Area Tests. Although the MDE initially released the scores, there were several inaccuracies. Corrected information wasn’t available as of publication deadline.

Itawamba County School District’s performance on language arts tests continues to be the weak link in its chain, almost consistently pulling in fewer Advanced scores than other subjects.

Likewise, the county’s eighth grade class, which earned a 75.5 percent proficient or advance performance on algebra testing, only earned 67 percent proficient of advanced on their language arts tests.

It should be noted that struggles with language arts are a statewide problem and are not unique to Itawamba County.

This year’s results represent the last under the old Mississippi State Frameworks. Moving forward, students will be tested under the new Common Core State Standards, which have new guidelines for testing in language and arts. Students will be required to take new tests on those standards in the spring.

Preparing for that switch, many schools focused more on the Common Core last year than they did on the state frameworks, meaning the skills measured by the tests were not necessarily the same as the ones schools were teaching.

As a result, this year’s test data doesn’t hold as much water as it has in the past. Whlie the test data will still be used to determine schools’ letter-grade rankings under a new state accountability model that was approved in the spring, many schools will keep the same letter-grade they had last year. This concession was approved by the Mississippi Department of Education to allow schools to focus more on the Common Core Standards than the previous set of standards. Districts and schools will be able to keep their 2012-2013 rankings or take the one this year, depending on which is higher.

School rankings, which give a broad picture of how each school and school district performs, are expected to be released in mid-September.

 adam.armour@journalinc.com, chris.kieffer@journalinc.com

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

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