Slight dip on state high school tests

news_education_greenBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

The percentage of students who passed state tests given to Mississippi high-schoolers fell slightly this year, according to data released Tuesday.

The state’s high school students take Subject Area Tests after completing algebra, biology, U.S. history and English-2. They must pass these tests in order to graduate.

Statewide, 83 percent of students passed the algebra test last school year, 80 percent passed in U.S. history, 78 percent in biology and 72 percent in English. The algebra rate fell by two percentage points, while the other three each dropped by about one point.

The Daily Journal on Tuesday published data for the math and language tests taken by third- to eighth-grade students last spring, as well as the science tests taken by fifth- and eighth-graders.

The high school test data had been scheduled to be released then too, but the original file sent to the media had inaccurate data. The Mississippi Department of Education released the corrected data on Tuesday morning.

Mississippi also saw declines on the tests taken by its elementary and middle-school students. Educators attributed some of that decline to the fact that those tests did not match the material students were studying. That’s because many schools had begun to teach the Common Core State Standards, new guidelines for math and language arts instruction, even though the tests were measuring the old Mississippi State Frameworks.

That would not have been the case for the high school tests, however. Since students need to pass those high-stakes tests in order to graduate, most schools would have still followed the old frameworks in those classes.

The data released by the MDE is at the schoolwide and districtwide level. It shows the percentage of students who scored in each of the four categories measured by the tests: minimal, from lowest to highest, basic, proficient and advanced.

The percentage of Mississippi high school students who scored at least proficient fell by three percentage points or fewer on three of the four tests. It remained flat on biology.

Several Northeast Mississippi school districts scored near the top of the state on the tests. Lafayette County and Tishomingo County each had passing rates that ranked among the top 15 districts – or top 10 percent – of the state on three of the four tests. Itawamba County, Houston and Booneville did so on two and Benton County, Chickasaw County, Amory, Oxford, Union County, Pontotoc County and Pontotoc City did so on one each.

Meanwhile, Booneville ranked in the top 15 on all four tests when looking at the percentage of students who scored at least proficient. Lafayette County did so three times, Oxford, Tishomingo County and Amory did so twice, while Itawamba County, Houston, North Tippah, Union County and Pontotoc County did so once.

Tupelo’s scores slightly declined on each of the four tests. However, the data was reported differently than it has been in the past. This year, it included all students who took the test at the school, while in other years, the data only has included those who were enrolled in the school for the entire length of the course.

“Overall, I was pleased with our scores, but we’re always striving to improve,” said Tupelo High Principal Jason Harris. “When you take this data into account with the other things MDE measures, I think we will be pleased when our labels are released.”

The Lee County School District improved its passing rate on U.S. history and English-2 and fell on algebra and biology. The percentage of students scoring at least proficient improved on biology.

“I’m very pleased with how our high schools scored,” said Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks. “All of our schools showed growth. When you have good teachers and good students in your classroom, it definitely shows up in your test scores.”

Results from the tests, as well as student growth and graduation rates will be used to determine the A to F letter-grade that districts and schools receive. That information is expected to be released next month.

Because of the transition to Common Core, districts and schools also will be able to keep their 2013 grade, if it is higher.

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  • James O Coley

    Mr. Kieffer, I don’t quite understand why you have to take up news space writing about the same thing two days in a row. Everything we needed to know about the state test was covered Tuesday and is over and done with.

  • Chris Kieffer

    Hi Mr. O Coley,
    The two stories were on two different sets of data. Tuesday’s story was about the tests take by third- to eighth-graders. Ideally, we also would have covered the high school tests in the same story, but that data was not available until a day later. So today’s story was a follow-up with information specifically on the high school numbers.