By Chris Kieffer
Test scores fell across Mississippi this year, but the decline was expected.
That is because those tests did not match the material being taught in many classrooms. Schools across the state used last year to begin teaching the Common Core State Standards, new guidelines for math and language arts instruction that have been adopted by 43 states. Mississippi students will be tested on them for the first time this year.
To allow schools an extra year to prepare, the Mississippi Department of Education gave them flexibility to begin teaching the new standards last year. But students still were tested on the old Mississippi State Frameworks.
As a result, that test data, released today, does not carry the same meaning as it has in past years.
“The performance levels on state tests were lower this year as expected because the 2014 tests were not aligned to Mississippi’s higher academic standards,” State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said in a statement. “We are looking forward to implementing the state’s new assessments in 2015, which will provide a more meaningful measure of what students are currently learning in class.”
Scores were released today for language arts and math tests taken by third- to eighth-grade students last spring, as well as for science tests taken by fifth- and eighth-graders. It marked the final time students would take the Mississippi Curriculum Test, second edition.
In addition to tests taken by elementary- and middle-school students, high school students take state tests upon completing algebra, biology, U.S. history and English 2. They must pass those tests in order to graduate.
The MDE initially released that data too, but it had several inaccuracies. Corrected data was not available as of 8 p.m. on Monday.
The data provided is at the school-wide and district-wide level. It reports the percentages of students who scored in each of the four categories measured by the test: minimal, from lowest to highest, basic, proficient and advanced.
Statewide, the percentage of students scoring in the highest two categories declined on 11 of the 12 tests. The only place that saw improvement compared to last year was eighth-grade language. On that test, 56.6 percent of students scored at least proficient, compared to 54.5 percent last year.
Many of the declines were by four percentage points or fewer. Larger drops came in third-grade language and math and sixth-, seventh-and eighth-grade math. Third-grade language fell by 7.7 percentage points, with 50.9 percent of students scoring proficient. That was the biggest decline.
“Given the situation, our students were tested on something other than what they were taught, we knew our scores would be behind last year’s,” said Oxford Superintendent Brian Harvey. “Do they hold any value? Of course. But do they give the most accurate picture? No. It’s what’s needed to move forward.”
Lafayette County Superintendent Adam Pugh said his district was among those that used the waiver to have more time to prepare for Common Core.
“Just looking at the numbers, we didn’t do as well as last year, and to be honest, I hoped that what was taught would have translated better,” Pugh said. “However, the bottom line is it is difficult to gauge our performance because we weren’t teaching what was being tested….Testing is going to be way different this year, and we’re making every effort to align our teaching with the new standards. The main thing we’re focusing on is learning.”
Several Northeast Mississippi school districts ranked near the top of the state in the percentages of their students who scored proficient or better on the individual third- to eighth-grade tests. Pontotoc City Schools ranked among the top 15 districts in the state – or top 10 percent – on nine of the 12 tests, while New Albany did so on eight tests. Also in the group were Booneville (five tests), Union County (four tests), Clay County (four tests), Monroe County (three tests), Oxford (three), Tupelo (two), Prentiss County (two), Chickasaw County (two), Alcorn County (two), Amory (two), Lafayette County (one), Tishomingo County (one), Houston (one), Itawamba County (one), Pontotoc County (one) and Baldwyn (one).
“We’re looking forward,” said Itawamba County Superintendent Michael Nanney. “We looked at the scores, but we’re about to have a new structure, a new way of being held accountable, and our teaching is designed to meet those benchmarks.
“In the transition, we’re trying to keep resources available for our children and teachers, and using these tests, whatever they may be, as a tool to prepare our students for a quality future.”
The results from these tests will be used to determine school and district letter-grade rankings, which are expected to be released next month. They will have the option to keep their 2013 rankings if they are higher, however, because of the transition to the new standards.
Scores are expected to drop more next year when students begin taking more difficult tests on the Common Core.
Riley Manning also contributed to this story.