A Center Hill High School student walks past the school's library as he rushes to class in Olive Branch Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Slightly more Mississippi students passed state tests than before the pandemic in nearly all grades, a result education leaders celebrated Thursday when test scores were released. 

The Mississippi Academic Assessment Program measures student performance in English, math, science, and U.S. history. Results for the 2022-23 school year were released Thursday and showed the state average in most subjects increasing one or two percentage points since 2019. The U.S. history assessment was reworked during the pandemic, so pre-COVID comparisons are not available. 

Last year, students approached pre-pandemic levels but did not meet them. Education officials lauded the new scores for both improving over last year and the 2019 scores, which had previously been the highest scoring year. 

“We were very pleased with the test scores,” said Paula Vanderford, chief accountability officer for the education department. “We saw increases from last year to this year across all subject areas at all grade levels, and that’s what we’re looking for is continuous improvement.” 

The Mississippi Department of Education sets a goal of having all students meet proficiency, which refers to students who scored a level 4 or 5 (proficient or advanced) on a 1 through 5 scale. Many school districts also use the number of students scoring a 3 (passing) or above to measure their performance.

The 2023 test scores show more students hitting both passing and proficient over 2019. The number of students hitting passing increased a little across the grades and subjects, while the number of students meeting proficiency increased more significantly. 

Referencing the education department’s goal of having all students meet proficiency, Vanderford said the goal is to carry on the momentum the state regained since the pandemic, using the tools already in place. 

“We need to continue to do what we’re doing because we are continually seeing those gains,” Vanderford said. 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.