By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
When the Mississippi Department of Education rolled out its new version of the state standardized tests in 2007-08, educators across the state knew their jobs were about to become more difficult.
The tests, which were based upon a new state curriculum, were designed to be more demanding and to judge students on critical thinking skills rather than rote memorization. The idea was that Mississippi students would rise to meet the new expectations, which were more in line with national norms. The understanding was that test scores would start low and would gradually rise.
Proof of that rise, albeit a slow one, showed on Friday when the state released the results of standardized tests taken during the past school year.
For the first time in the test’s four-year history, more than half of Mississippi’s students scored in the top two categories on each of the 12 elementary school tests. Students score, from lowest to highest, minimal, basic, proficient and advanced.
New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett said the new expectations have fostered a greater emphasis on rigor in the state’s classrooms.
“In the summer months of June and July, there is more discussion among teachers and principals and school personnel on how to improve the education of their students than there has ever been,” Garrett said.
That added emphasis resulted in strong showings by several Northeast Mississippi school districts on those standardized tests, which will be used to determine state accountability rankings. Those rankings will be released in September.
The Pontotoc City School District was among the top-15 districts in the state on each of the 12 elementary school tests, when measuring the percentage of its students who scored proficient or better. Booneville ranked in the top-10 in the state on five elementary school tests, and Amory students did so on four tests.
“We are ecstatic and can hardly wait for the new year so we can continue what we have started,” Amory Superintendent Gearl Loden said.
Meanwhile, students in New Albany, Corinth, Tishomingo County, Alcorn County, Clay County and Baldwyn school districts ranked in the top 10 in the state on at least one test.
“I feel like our teachers have done a really good job working with kids and motivating them to do their best,” said Tishomingo County Superintendent Malcolm Kuykendall.
In Itawamba County, Tremont Attendance Center had 100 percent of its students score at least proficient on both fourth-grade language and fourth-grade math. Belmont School and Marietta Elementary placed in the top-20 in the state on seven different tests, and Pine Grove did so on six.
The Corinth School District ranked near the top of the state on the percentage of its students who passed on each of the three high school tests, with 92 percent on English II and about 99 percent on algebra I and U.S. history. In addition to Corinth, New Albany and Pontotoc County each ranked in the top 10 of the state for the percentage of students passing the algebra state test, while South Tippah did so for U.S. history and Tupelo for English II.
Across the state and region, math scores were better than language scores, something educators said they would work to address.
“We will look at our language arts curriculum across all grades,” said Prentiss County testing coordinator Brenda Bolen.
Itawamba County Superintendent Teresa McNeece said that scores are beginning to rise as teachers and students become more familiar with the new curriculum.
“My philosophy has been that your test should be designed to reflect your curriculum, and if you teach your curriculum, the tests will take care of themselves,” she said.