Slow growth seen in test scores

Mississippi students showed slight growth on the state tests that they took during the 2009-10 school year, according to data released today by the state’s Department of Education.
And those results left school leaders with mixed feelings of satisfaction and, to some degree, disappoinment.
“I’m pleased with some things, but we have room to get better,” said Pontotoc City Superintendent Adam Pugh, echoing many of his counterparts across the region.
The results came from a variety of tests administered last year:
– Students in third- to eighth-grades took the Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition for language arts and math during the spring.
– High school students took Subject Area Tests in four content areas: Algebra I, Biology I, English II and U.S. History.
– Fourth- and seventh-grade students took a writing test.
– Fifth- and eighth-grade students were given a science test.
All of the tests ranked students as minimal, basic, proficient or advanced, except in writing, where a 0-4 scale was used.
The results of these state tests will be used to rank schools and districts from Star to Failing under the state’s accountability model. Those results will be released in September.
This was the third year that elementary- and middle-school students took the second edition of the Mississippi Curriculum Test, which was redesigned to make it more rigorous and more closely aligned with national norms.
The percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced on this year’s MCT2 increased from 2007-08 in every grade level, except third-grade math, which dipped two percentage points to 49 percent.
A few increases
The most significant increases came in seventh-grade language arts and seventh- and eighth-grade math. The number of students scoring proficient and advanced on each of those tests has increased by nine or more percentage points from 2007-08.
Several of the other scores increased by two or three percentage points.
“I am pleased that we continue to make incremental progress by students that scored proficient and above, particularly grades five through eight in mathematics,” state Superintendent Tom Burnham said in a press release. “Language arts is showing slow but steady progress in grades three through seven.”
Results were mixed across Northeast Mississippi, with some superintendents pleased with their progress and others hoping to have seen more improvement.
“I was pleased with our algebra scores, but the other scores weren’t as good as we wanted,” said Tishomingo County Superintendent Malcolm Kuykendall. “We had improvement in almost everything, but we didn’t improve to the level that I was anticipating.”
Last year, the Booneville School District had some of the best scores in the state and was rewarded by being ranked a Star District. This year, the district ranked in the top five in the state in fourth- fifth- and eighth-grade language arts.
The district also scored particularly well on the English II and Biology Subject Area Tests.

Lee County schools see reason to cheer

The district saw big gains in fifth- and eighth-grade math and Algebra I.

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal
The Lee County school district showed significant improvement in the 2009-10 state test data that was released today.
Third- to eighth-grade students across the state took tests in both language and math, and high school students were tested in Algebra I, Biology I, English II and U.S. History.
As a district, Lee County showed improvements on 11 of those 16 tests when comparing the same grade level from 2009-10 to 2008-09.
That improvement is measured by the number of students scoring proficient and advanced on the tests. Students are ranked minimal, basic, proficient and advanced.
“We did well and made great strides, but we know we can’t sit on that because next year, the bar goes up,” Superintendent Mike Scott said. “We’re in the process now of identifying things in our curriculum to raise the rigor in pacing guides and assessments.”
Scott credited the improvement to several factors:
n The implementation of academic coaches to help teachers and of interventionists to help struggling students.
n Teachers working to develop curriculum, pacing guides and assessments common to the district.
n Teachers from different schools gathering together in the afternoons during the district’s 60-percent days, in which school dismissed early.
n The use of data to make decisions.
“I think that over the last two years, we’re seeing a real strong commitment to making decisions based on what the data shows us,” Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said.
The district’s biggest gains came in fifth-grade math, eighth-grade math and Algebra I.
Sixty-eight percent of Lee County fifth-graders scored at least proficient in math, an increase of 20 percentage points from the year before, as did 63 percent of eighth-graders, a 19-point increase.
Ninety-two percent of the district’s students scored at least proficient in Algebra I, up from 79 percent.
The district saw a drop of nine percentage points in eighth-grade language, and smaller drops in fourth-grade language, fourth-grade math and sixth-grade math.
The district also saw big gains at its two schools that were ranked At Risk of Failing last year. Plantersville Middle School nearly doubled the percentage of proficient and advanced students in sixth-grade language (41.3 percent from 21.5), sixth-grade math (49.2 from 20) and eighth-grade math (51.6 from 29.5).
The number of students scoring at least proficient in fifth-grade math rose from 32.4 percent to 49.2.
Shannon Middle School saw large increases in seventh-grade language (54.6 from 27.2), seventh-grade math (53.4 from 32) and eighth-grade math (50 from 35).
One school in the district that fell was Verona, which saw large decreases in third-grade math (28.9 from 45), fourth-grade language (29.6 from 44.8) and fourth-grade math (28.2 from 47.4).
“What happened there was we got too focused on programs instead of on curriculum,” Scott said.
Scott added that administrators and teachers at the school already have been meeting about ways to reverse those declines.
At Saltillo High School, 98.4 percent of students passed the Algebra I test, 96.1 percent passed Biology I, 98.7 percent passed U.S. History and 95.5 percent passed English II.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Tupelo scores fall short of improvement sought

The district expects new programs to make an impact in spring tests.

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal
TUPELO – State test scores for students in the Tupelo Public School District from 2009-10 were similar to those from the previous school year.
Comparing cohorts of students, such as 2009-10 fourth-graders to the previous year’s third-graders, five groups improved on the Mississippi Curriculum Test and five declined, according to results released today.
Those increases and declines were determined by the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced on the test.
The test ranks students as minimal, basic, proficient and advanced.
“There was not as much improvement as we hoped,” said Chief Accountability Officer David Meadows. “One of our primary goals was to stop the decline of the previous two years, and I do believe we have started to do that.”
One of the bleakest spots for the district was in algebra. Only 62.1 percent of the district’s students passed that test, a figure that was better than only three other districts in Northeast Mississippi.
While 99.3 percent of Tupelo Middle School students passed the test, only 54 percent of students at Tupelo High School did so.
Last year, 70.9 percent of the district’s students passed the test, including 64.1 percent at the high school.
“Algebra has been a subject that Tupelo has done OK with but this year was a little different that it was in the past,” Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill said. “We haven’t pinpointed what happened in the last school year, but that is something I’m talking about with the principals at the high school and the middle school.”
Hill said one way the district is working to address that is by adding a sixth-grade pre-algebra class for the first time this year. He said that will give students a better foundation.
Among the district’s brightest areas was seventh-grade math, in which 73 percent of the district’s students scored either proficient or advanced.
That was a 14.4 percentage-point increase from the number of sixth-graders who had done so the year before.
Sixth- and seventh-grade language arts students also showed significant increases.
Meanwhile, math showed declines of more than 6.5 percentage points in the number of fourth- and fifth-grade students scoring proficient and advanced, compared to third- and fourth-graders last year.
District administrators said they were disappointed in this year’s scores, but were encouraged to see the district avoid the significant declines that had plagued it the two previous years.
“We are still not where we need to be,” Superintendent Randy Shaver said in a press release. “The 2009-10 school year was a year of transformation and preparation for the implementation of several strategies and initiatives which have proven to significantly impact student achievement.”
Those efforts include a new department focused on developing a standard curriculum for each grade level to ensure that the all of the material required by the state tests is being taught.
That curriculum department also will develop mid-year assessments to gauge where students stand and where they need additional instruction before state tests. The district is considering a new data system to help it better use that information.
“Teachers are looking at individual data and designing programs for those individuals,” said Deputy Superintendent Diana Ezell.
Tupelo schools also have begun a new initiative that provides laptops to all sixth- to 12th-grade students and adds interactive technology across all grade levels. District officials believe this technology will better engage students.
“We’re not where we want to be,” said Hill, “but we know that we’re now headed in the right direction.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

See school scores in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal