State education tests show slight increase overall

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State Department of Education leaders Thursday claimed success in the 2015-2016 state tests, which showed an increase in students scoring advanced and a decline in those scoring minimal.

Overall, 32.6 percent of students scored proficient (or levels 4 and 5) in English Language Arts compared to last year’s 32.2 percent. Around 31 percent of students scored proficient in math, about 4.5 percentage points higher than last year, test results show.

More than 260,000 students in grades 3-8 and high schoolers took tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics at the end of the school year.

While the total percentage of students scoring Levels 1 and 2 declined, some school districts have a majority of students scoring in those brackets, state education officials noted.

Students are placed in one of five performance levels – minimal, basic, pass, proficient and advanced. Only proficient and advanced, or levels 4 and 5, are considered “proficient.”

Midtown Public Charter School and Holmes County School District were brought up to the board as examples of schools and districts where the majority of students fall into the two lowest categories.

At Midtown, which opened last fall, almost half of all 5th graders scored in levels 1 and 2 on English, while nearly 70 percent of 6th graders scored in the two lowest levels on the same subject test. The numbers were similarly stark in math, with 50 percent of all Midtown 6th graders scoring a Level 2 and none scoring a Level 5 on the math test.

Dr. Carey Wright

Mississippi Department of Education

Dr. Carey Wright

“That’s significant, so we need to be thinking of ‘how do we help those schools, how do we help those children?’” State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said.

On the bright side, several school districts — Madison, Clinton, Oxford, Petal and Ocean Springs — all performed in the top 10 on both English Language Arts and mathematics.

Madison County Superintendent Ronnie McGehee said he attributes the district’s success to two simple factors.

“In an ever-changing educational assessment environment, I attribute it to teachers focusing on great instruction and our students focusing on performance,” McGehee said. “We’re fortunate to have fantastic teachers and wonderful principals with very supportive parents and community.”

The 2015-2016 school year was the first for students to take the Mississippi Assessment Program after the state broke from the Common Core testing consortium Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers the previous year.

The results are “fairly consistent with what I saw the prior year,” said J.P. Beaudoin, chief of research and development at the Department of Education. Beaudoin emphasized that this year’s results cannot be directly compared to last year’s because of the different tests. Last year’s results serve as a guiding point, he said.

Wright noted that generally speaking, there are “lots of students at level 3,” or “pass.”

These are the students teachers and educators need to focus on, Wright said. With additional resources, they should be able to move quickly to a level of proficiency.

The MAP test measures student progress in grades 3 through 8 with annual tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics, along with high school Algebra I and English II.

Wright attributed the level English scores to the new addition of a writing component on the test, a first for students.

“These tests are very difficult,” Beaudoin told state Board of Education members on Thursday. “It’s not the old bubble in test. In some cases, they (students) have to explain their answers, enter in a value.”

Highlights from results:

  • 15 districts had greater than 45 percent of all students scoring Level 4 or higher
  • 173,921, or 66.2 percent, of all tested students scored Level 3 or higher
  • 18,963, or 7.2 percent, of all tested students scored Level 1
  • Top 5 school districts in both English Language Arts and Mathematics: Petal, Oxford, Ocean Springs, Madison, Clinton
  • Bottom 6 school districts in both English Language Arts and Mathematics: Holmes County, Humphreys County, Leland, Coahoma AHS, Yazoo City, Hazlehurst City School District
  • Charles Pearce

    Note to education administrators everywhere: Please consider giving more credit and recognition to foundations, literacy institutes, and generous giving by private individuals for test improvements. A simple public thank you could pay huge dividends.