State, region see test score growth

Shalon Ruth helps Tyler McGaha, 8, with his math problem at Verona Elementary. (Thomas Wells | Daily Journal)

Shalon Ruth helps Tyler McGaha, 8, with his math problem at Verona Elementary. (Thomas Wells | Daily Journal)

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

More Mississippi students scored in the top two categories on nearly every state test given to elementary and high school students last winter and spring.

The Mississippi Department of Education released today the results of those tests taken during the 2012-13 school year. It also announced that the state had a 75.5 percent graduation rate, the highest since the measuring format was changed in 2007.

“The assessment results are the product of hard work by students and teachers across the state under more rigorous standards,” said interim State Superintendent of Education Lynn House in a press release. “While we are pleased with the overall growth in academic performance, we know that some of our schools are struggling.

“We are implementing initiatives and working with districts to help students as we continue to move Mississippi to standards that will better prepare them for postsecondary education and the workforce.”

Third- to eighth-grade students took the Mississippi Curriculum Test, second edition, in language arts and math last spring, and fifth- and eighth-graders also took a science test. High school students took a test after completing Algebra I, English II, U.S. history and biology.

Test-takers score, from lowest to highest, minimal, basic, proficient and advanced. The results of the tests will be used to determine district and school rankings, from A-F, which will be announced on Sept. 13.

Across the state, more students scored proficient and advanced on all of the elementary and middle-school tests, except third-grade math and eighth-grade language, which remained level.

“These scores demonstrate that our students will respond to academic challenges,” James Mason, MDE’s director of student assessment, said in a news release. “Teachers are becoming better trained to help students achieve higher performance as we implement more rigor in the classroom.”

Several Northeast Mississippi school districts ranked near the top of the state in their percentage of students who scored at least proficient on various tests.

The Booneville School District was in the top 10 on eight tests: third-grade language and math, fourth-grade language and math, eighth-grade language, biology, U.S. history and English II.

In fourth-grade math, 93.8 percent of its students scored at least proficient.

“These are some of the best test scores we’ve ever had, and historically, we’ve had good test scores,” said Booneville Superintendent Todd English. “…We’ve had great commitment from teachers, school leadership and the community, which is up to the challenge of raising expectations so our kids can compete.”

Amory ranked near the top on third-grade language and math, fourth-grade language and eighth-grade math. More than 95 percent of its eighth-graders scored at least proficient in math.

“We are very pleased with the preliminary scores we got back from the state,” said Superintendent Tony Cook. “We had a significant increase in our scores over last year.”

Cook said the district focused more on critical thinking than rote memorization and credited the foundation of former Superintendent Gearl Loden, as well as the work of teachers and students.

New Albany and Pontotoc City Schools ranked near the top of the state on six tests. Oxford did so on four tests.

“We’re excited about our scores,” said Oxford Superintendent Brian Harvey. “Our percentage of minimal and basic scores decreased from last year in every grade, and our percentage of proficient and advanced increased from last year in every grade.”

Pontotoc City Superintendent Karen Tutor said the district concentrated on reading scores, as always, and paid particular attention to what it did at the high school to prepare students for the test.

“I’m very pleased,” she said. “Our kids did a good job with student performance.”

More than 95 percent of New Albany students scored proficient on the algebra test, and more than 92 percent of Pontotoc City students did so in seventh-grade math.

Monroe County, Tishomingo County and Clay County each ranked in the state’s top 10 on three tests, Itawamba County did so on two and Pontotoc County and Lafayette County on one each.

“I’m pleased,” said Lafayette County School Superintendent Adam Pugh. “We want to get better and better each year.”

Riley Manning contributed to this story.

See more including test scores for schools around the region in today’s Daily Journal newspaper.

Click video to hear audio