Thursday, December 17, 2015
Mississippi's second round of testing for third through eighth graders left room for improvement and growth, top state education officials said.
It was most of the students' first exposure to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams, an assessment that was intended to align with Mississippi's college- and career-readiness standards. The tests were also the final installment of PARCC, a testing consortium the state is leaving after just one year.
Each student took an "English language arts" test, as well as a mathematics exam. The test results are ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 with a 1 being the lowest and 5 being the best.
On average, almost 60 percent of all Mississippi students scored at a level 3 or higher. However, broken down by district and grade, scores vary widely. Nonetheless, state Superintendent Carey Wright said she is delighted at the number of Mississippi students who reached level 3 but added the state has work to do.
"We have a long way to go, but at least this is a pretty good foundation," Wright said during the conference call with reporters on Dec. 16.
Dr. J.P. Beaudoin, chief of research at MDE, said during a conference call with media outlets that level 3 students are approaching expectations and know a significant amount of content but might need some additional assistance.
The department's strategy for improving test scores largely relies on professional development and teacher training. Wright pointed to the findings of an independent consulting firm, which show that what teachers learn in the trainings are used in their classrooms.
MDE could run into roadblocks expanding teacher training under the constraints of proposed state budget cuts. This week, in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee's budget recommendation, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program received the same amount of funding as last year. That means public schools remain underfunded by approximately $200 million.
Wright asked for increased funding for teacher trainings back in the fall during legislative budget hearings, and she said the department plans to provide professional development to MDE staff in the coming year. Districts, however, will have to provide training on their own or use the teaching coaches assigned to certain low-performing districts.
After this year, MDE will introduce its own assessments that officials say will match if not exceed the rigor of the PARCC assessments, thus making scores released publicly today a new baseline for third through eighth graders.
"Districts need to be taking this very seriously. Districts need to be drilling down to (data for) individual children," Wright said. "Who are the children that are scoring at 1 or 2, and where are they instructionally, and how do we change instruction to fit their needs?"