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Most Mississippi students score below grade level on tests

JACKSON — Mississippi students in elementary and middle grades lagged behind their counterparts in 10 other states in 2014-2015 on tests of math and language arts.

Those are findings of the second batch of findings from Mississippi’s only administration of a multi-state test meant to measure achievement under new academic standards.

The results, released Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Education, are a big drop from the 2014 state tests, but that decrease was expected. State Superintendent Carey Wright says the new tests were written to be much harder.

“I’m delighted, to be honest with you, that the children did as well as they did with this level of rigor,” Wright told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the good news for Mississippi.”

In math, about 26 percent of students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded expectations on the test, said state assessment director J.P. Beaudoin. In English, about 30 percent of all students in those grades met or exceeded expectations.

Though more students reached grade level in English, Mississippi is actually closer to other states in math. Score levels tended to decline in middle school grades, both in Mississippi and nationwide. Wright said that might stem from those students having started school under Mississippi’s older curriculum and having to navigate the changeover to the state’s current Common Core-linked standards.

Last spring was the only time Mississippi will administer the test designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of Colleges and Careers. In 2016, Mississippi will begin giving a test custom-written by Questar Assessment.

From lowest to highest, PARCC’s score levels are described as not meeting expectations, partially meeting expectations, approaching expectations, meeting expectations and exceeding expectations. About 60 percent of students at least partially met expectations on the tests, Beaudoin said.

PARCC was unpopular among administrators because the test was given in two parts separated by weeks, requiring more testing days than some other exams. Other administrators complained that the online testing system was buggy.

Giving up the PARCC, though, means Mississippi won’t have easy comparisons to other states. Wright said school leaders nationwide are studying how to maintain such comparisons.

Some of Mississippi’s 145 school districts saw few or no students score at the most advanced level, while others met or exceeded the multistate average. Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden said he thought his students’ strong performance shows Mississippi can compete nationally.

“I like the idea that we’re competing and doing well,” Loden said.

Wright said that even though Mississippi won’t give the PARCC exams again, she wants teachers to use the results to help identify strengths and weaknesses of individual students and help them improve.

“Districts need to be drilling down to individual children,” she said.

A-to-F school accountability grades will released next year.

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