Five years after Mississippi K-12 educators began teaching new curricula to help students meet Common Core standards, the results of the first statewide testing were released today.
According to the results released by Mississippi Department of Education officials today, 59 percent of Mississippi students tested an adequate (Level 3) or better in math. More than 60 percent tested at adequate or higher in English.
The tests, administered by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of 11 states that adopted Common Core Standards, were given to students in grades 3 through 8, testing both math and English language arts. The PARCC tests were given this spring.
The test results were broken down into five levels — Level 1 corresponds with an “F” and is described as “minimal understanding,” followed by Level 2 (a “D” or partial understanding), Level 3 (a “C” or adequate understanding) Level 4 (a “B” or strong understanding) and Level 5 (an “A” or distinguished understanding).
Although MDE officials focused on the success of those students who reached Level 3 or higher, the results also showed that tens of thousands of Mississippi students have had difficulty meeting the new, tougher standards.
Locally, only one of six Golden Triangle-area school districts — the Lowndes County School District — had a majority of its students score at a Level 3 or higher in all grades in both tested subjects. Even there, there were far more students who scored at Levels 1 and 2 than at 4 and 5. In eighth-grade math, 37 percent of LCSD students scored at Level 1 or 2 while in eighth-grade English, 36.6 percent scored at Level 1 or 2.
Even so, LCSD easily outperformed the other five Golden Triangle Districts.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Columbus Municipal School District students in all 12 testing groups (two each in each of the six grades) struggled. A majority of students in all 12 groups scored at Level 1 or 2. The difficulty was most pronounced in eighth-grade math, where 46.9 percent of CMSD students scored at Level 1 and 34.9 percent scored at Level 2.
‘A new baseline’
Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said during a Wednesday conference call that the results should be viewed in context.
“These scores provide a new baseline for Mississippi,” she said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. We have never had an assessment as rigorous as this one. Our students need to be able to think critically and solve complex problems, which was what this test required.”
“I think you have to drill down into the data to identify where the needs are,” she added. “It’s not enough to look at the data and say, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ It’s more important to identify those children who are struggling. They’ll need additional support and intervention. It will also point us in the direction of where we need to focus of professional development so that teachers have what they need to reach these children and help them progress.”
Dr. Robin Ballard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the LCSD, said parents should take into account the difficulty of transitioning into the higher standards. Because the curriculum designed to meet Common Core standards was phased in by grade levels since implementation started in 2010, many students had limited exposure to the far tougher standards measured by the PARCC testing, particularly in the higher grades.
“I do think parents understand the dilemma the teachers were facing,” Ballard said. “You’re teaching one curriculum and testing for another.
“But the parents can look at (the results) and get an idea of how well our teachers and students are doing,” Ballard said. “At the district level, we will look at these results as a whole, looking for strengths and weaknesses in the schools and among the teachers and make the changes that are necessary to address problem areas.”
‘Not the whole story’
Jody Woodrum, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Starkville School District, urges parents to view the results of the PARCC testing as one measure, rather than a definitive assessment of a child’s progress.
“Right now, we are in the process of looking at this at the school and district level and not so much the individual student at this point,” Woodrum said. “I would suggest parents take these results like any of the other ways we evaluate students. Put it with the other pieces we have. Try to get the whole picture and not rely one score. These results help us see strengths and weaknesses, but they aren’t the whole story.”
Education officials said efforts moving forward have been made more difficult by the MDE’s decision to leave the PARCC consortium in January after just one year. The move was made as a concession to many of the state’s top political leaders, who want the state to abandon Common Core Standards and the PARCC, which provides testing to assess how students are meeting those standards.
Despite withdrawing from PARCC, Mississippi still has Common Core, which it calls Mississippi’s College and Career-Ready Standards. A new testing company has been signed to a 10-year contract. The first tests will be held in the spring, but it will be difficult to measure progress because students will have taken two different tests in two years. Leaving PARCC will also mean the state can’t compare how it is doing with other states taking the same tests.
Wright said she was disappointed in leaving PARCC after just one year.
“I regret losing the ability to compare (data) across the consortium,” Wright said. “When you have the ability to know how your children are faring against children from other states, that’s always a good thing to have. We don’t have that, as of this year.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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