State test scores lower under new teaching methods, educators prepare for new assessments

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Test scores are in for Mississippi's public schools, and unlike previous years, it's comparing apples to oranges.

Students were tested under the same frameworks as they have been for the past several years, but they prepared for the test using different standards than in years past. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are now fully implemented in every public school district in the state, and many districts had already begun implementation when the standards were adopted in 2010.

Because students were being assessed under new standards but by the same test, education officials knew that test scores would likely go down.

"We knew that we would have a drop in some of our scores, and we were prepared for that," said Petal superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon.

Petal did not drop percentiles from 2013 to 2014, but their numbers did shift in individual performance categories.

Here's how the performance categories are broken down: minimal, basic, proficient and advanced. The subject testing areas are as follows: Third through eighth grades language arts and math; fifth and eighth grades science; algebra, biology, history and English for high school students.

"It was totally a shift," said Hattiesburg assistant superintendent Dr. Edna Thomas of this year's test preparation. "It was totally different."

The only percentile drop for Hattiesburg elementary and middle school students was third grade language, where students dropped from a proficient ranking to basic. However, the high school subject area test scores were well below the state average, with the majority of students scoring minimal on every test and less than half passing the test except for algebra, where the majority scored proficient with 53 percent making a passing score.

"A lot of that falls back to our literacy piece," Thomas said. "We have found over the years that we do have issues with our reading and literacy, and we're doing some things to try to address it on the front end now."

Thomas said the district has implemented three programs over the past two years that focus on literacy growth. "Cradle to Three" is a program that starts in the home to teach parents to read with their children so that they will be better prepared when they reach kindergarten. "Letters training" is a state initiative adopted by Hattiesburg Public Schools that teaches educators how to identify students who are in need of extra literacy trainings. Finally the district has begun "Transitional Learning Collaborative Classes" for kindergartners and first graders who did not master skills needed for the next grade and require more one-on-one teaching.

"We're either going to fix it on the front end or you end up paying the consequences for it on the back end when they get into high school," Thomas said of the district's goal in targeting problems early.

Poor performance on the state English test was found statewide in 2014. Only 59 percent of students in Mississippi's public schools passed that portion of the test, compared to percentages in the high sixties and mid-seventies for the other three subject areas.

"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," said state superintendent of education Dr. Carey Wright. "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."

At the end of this school year, students will take assessments created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which will align with the CCSS already being taught in Mississippi classrooms.

"We feel comfortable with the game plan we have in place," said Dillon. "Our teachers are working extremely hard, our administrative staff really have a focus on what we're doing from the building level moving forward with the Common Core State Standards in addition to the new accountability model."

Dillon and Thomas both noted that the 2015 PARCC assessment will be very telling of how districts are performing and where they need to grow, as it will set the baseline data for future growth models.

"We are in the midst of change," Dillon explained, "so we know there will be an adjustment period."

Details of test scores from all districts statewide can be downloaded here.

More specific numbers will be provided in Tuesday's 6 p.m. broadcast.

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