Mississippi students fared better on state tests last year

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi public school students fared better on the state’s standardized tests last year, according to results released Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Education, although gains in math again outstripped gains in English and language arts.

Last spring was the third time the state has given the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program tests to students in grades 3-8 and high school.

“The trends that you’re seeing are exactly what you want to see,” said state Superintendent Carey Wright.

There are five levels of achievement on the computerized tests: minimal, basic, passing, proficient and advanced. In English/language arts, which tests reading and writing, 40 percent of students scored at proficient or advanced levels. That’s up from 37 percent last year. Achievement jumped more in math, with 44 percent of students scoring proficient or higher, compared to 39 percent last year.

The state has set a goal of 70 percent proficiency for all students by 2025. While state students made a large enough gain in math last year to be on pace to meet that mark, they fell well short of the pace needed to meet that goal in English/language arts. Achievement gains of white students outstripped those of African American students, while those of regular students outstripped special education students, widening achievement gaps on those measures. Achievement gaps narrowed between economically disadvantaged students and better-off students, and also narrowed between proficient English speakers and those still learning the language.

Wrght said achievement continues to rise as teachers develop more comfort with the state’s academic standards. It’s typical for scores to rise in successive years as teachers and students get more comfortable with a new test. But Wright said she believes the progress is real, pointing to gains on the separate National Assessment of Educational Progress, the benchmark nationwide test of academic achievement. Mississippi has made significant gains in both fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math since 2007.

Local districts among the highest scoring in both math and English/language arts include Petal, Enterprise, Oxford, Ocean Springs, Clinton and Union.

Districts with the largest increases in math include Newton, Leflore County, Quitman County and Neshoba County. Districts with the largest increases in English/language arts include Chickasaw County, Coahoma Early College High School, Union and Okolona.

One key testing benchmark will loom in spring 2019. Starting then, based on a 2016 law approved at Wright’s behest, a student must score above the two lowest tiers on the English/language arts test to reach third grade. Until this year, they only had to score above the lowest “minimal” tier to demonstrate reading proficiency. On last year’s test 35 percent of third graders would have flunked that reading test.

The state’s three charter schools that were operating last year continued to show results below state averages, and in some cases below the overall average of the Jackson school district, where all three are located.