Second grade students practice on computers at Philadelphia Elementary School on Feb. 28, 2018. Credit: Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

State test results from the spring paint the first picture of how the pandemic has affected Mississippi students’ learning — and overall, it’s not good.

The results from the spring administration of state tests, or the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP), show the percentage of students who passed the tests dropped 9% in English and 14% in math statewide. These assessments measure student achievement in grades 3-8, and high schoolers also take an English II and Algebra I test.

These results, presented to the Mississippi State Board of Education Thursday, offer a snapshot of the effect the pandemic has had on K-12 education in the state. State tests were not administered in 2020 because of the virus, which shut down schools in spring of that year.

This also marks the first time proficiency levels, or the percentage of students who scored at the two highest levels on the tests, dropped since the test was first administered in 2016.

This year, 34.9% of students were proficient in English and 35.1% were proficient in math. Proficiency refers to the percentage of students who scored at a level 4 or 5 (proficient or advanced) on a 1 through 5 scale. A level 1 indicates a score of “minimal,” 2 is “basic” and 3 is “passing.” 

But Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, said she was “pleasantly surprised” the numbers did not decrease more than they did. She also praised schools for ensuring that around 96% of students came into buildings and participated in testing in the spring, even when some were learning entirely virtually.

“I need to be honest with you, I was pleasantly surprised that we did not drop more … This was a historical event in our nation when you think about what happened,” she said. “I think the districts pivoted and did the best they could.” 

She said the nearly 7% drop in English proficiency is a testament to the work of the state’s teachers, and the more dramatic 12% drop in mathematics reflects national trends

“I am proud of the way Mississippi students, families, teachers and school leaders persevered through the most challenging school year of their lives,” said Wright.

Wright also said it was important to note there were districts where student performance improved. 

One of those was Ocean Springs School District, which improved its district-wide English Language Arts proficiency level compared to 2019. Bonita Coleman, the superintendent, thanked teachers “who helped ensure a worldwide pandemic did not stand in the way of our continued progress.” 

But a statewide analysis of students who passed the tests show declines as a state and by grade level.

Wright said the department is analyzing the data for overall trends and will put out a request for proposal for companies to offer what’s referred to as “high dosage tutoring,” or individual and small-group tutoring for public school students in Mississippi. Federal COVID-19 relief funds will pay for that resource, said Wright.

The department has also deployed coaches — including digital literacy, early childhood and math — to assist teachers in improving their instruction. 

A U.S. Department of Education report found the pandemic has negatively affected the academic growth of students everywhere and has widened already existent disparities facing students of color and English learners.  

A more detailed look at the state test results, including performance by subgroup and growth data, will be available in October when the state publishes districts’ accountability results. This year, districts will not receive grades, however.

Wright, who has called the data a “new baseline” for students and teachers in Mississippi, said there is ongoing conversation about if and how the accountability rating system, which assigns schools and districts an A-F grade, will change to take the impact of the pandemic into account.

“We are in conversation with our technical advisory committee about that, and we are getting ready to establish our accountability task force. All of those questions are good ones and need to be addressed,” said Wright.

View English test results by districts here: 

View math test results by districts here: 

View English test results by districts here:

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the request for proposal has not been issued yet and the test results presented to the board were an information item.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Skinner most recently served as deputy managing editor before assuming the role of managing editor. Kayleigh has a bachelor’s in journalism from the School of Journalism and New Media from the University of Mississippi. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.