The majority of Columbus Municipal School District students failed end-of-year assessments in 2016-17, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.
MDE released scores today for the 2016-17 Mississippi Academic Assessment Program testing. The assessment includes English-Language Arts (ELA) and math scores for grades 3-8, as well as Algebra I and English II for high school levels.
Tests are scored in five levels. Level 1 and 2 represent failing performance, while levels 3, 4 and 5 represent passing scores by increasingly higher performance.
At CMSD, 55.7 percent of third graders scored in the bottom two levels of the ELA test. In fourth grade ELA, 57.2 percent of students scored in the bottom two levels. The trend continues through the tested grades, with a majority or near-majority of students falling into levels 1 and 2 on the ELA tests, through English II, where 52.7 percent of Columbus High School students scored in the failing levels.
CMSD students posted similar results in the math tests. Notably, 63.4 percent of students at Columbus Middle School fell into the bottom two levels. At Columbus High and Middle schools, 58.5 percent of students posted passing grades in the Algebra I test.
CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman said it’s hard to tell what the scores mean for the school district accountability rating, which MDE will release in October. CMSD currently carries a D rating. Hickman said MDE is considering adjustments to the cut scores which determine school letter ratings because performance across the state was lower than expected.
Hickman also contended the proficiency levels alone don’t paint a full picture, because they don’t show progress within each category. For example, he said, the levels don’t show a student’s growth from Level 2A to 2B, which is improvement. He also said it gets more difficult for students to move up as proficiency levels increase.
“Looking at the raw number, it’s not necessarily looking at who the students are and where they were before,” Hickman said. “It doesn’t show where they came from. We had a large category of kids that were multiple, multiple grade levels below where they should be, which is where Level 1 is. We moved a lot of them to Level 2. … We move students, but it’s a lot of heavy lifting.”
Still, Hickman said CMSD keeps parents informed of students’ progress. He acknowledged the district’s slow progress can be a frustration for the community but said improvement will take time.
“We have some years until we get there as a district,” he said. “But we’re positively moving as a district. We still have years a district to recover from where our students were in the beginning.”
Lowndes County School District
Lowndes County School District generally performed well, according to the assessment results.
More than 75 percent of the district’s third graders posted passing scores on the third grade ELA test, and the district maintains similar scores through English II, where 78.2 percent of students received passing test scores.
In math, the district also fared better, with 82.9 percent of third graders passing. As with the ELA test, the scores generally hold up through high school, where 81.7 percent of students passed the Algebra I test.
Caledonia Elementary School specifically performed well in math, with 68 percent of fourth grade students scoring in the top two levels and less than 10 percent falling into the failing ranges. Nearly 71 percent of the school’s third grade students scored in the top two levels, while only 9.1 percent scored in the bottom two.
LCSD Assistant Superintendent Robin Ballard said the district, which was 63 accountability points away from an A rating for the last school year, went into the year with the hopes of pushing reaching the highest rating MDE bestows.
Ballard said the school has worked with students throughout the year to prepare for the test as well as possible. She added having the same test in back-to-back years, after three years of consecutively-changing tests, was very helpful.
“It’s a huge benefit,” she said. “We’re directed not to look at the test, but they give us practice items to look at and work with our students on. To know what we’re going to be looking at at the end of the year takes away the guess work.
“We know what the target is, we know what the standards are and what we have to teach for our students to be successful,” she added. “It lays the cards out on the table and everyone knows how to play the game.”
The majority of Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District received passing grades overall for the ELA and math tests.
On the third grade ELA test, 60.3 percent of the district’s students scored in the passing proficiency ranges. A similar pattern held through all of the district’s ELA testing.
For math, 68.9 percent of third grade students scored passing grades. At Starkville High School and Armstrong Middle School, a combined 68.8 percent of students passed the Algebra I test.
West Elementary School stood out from the rest of the district on its math tests. At the school, 91.7 percent of third grade students scored in the top two proficiency levels, and none scored in the lowest level. In fourth grade math, 57.7 percent of the school’s students scored in the top two levels, with none scoring at the lowest proficiency.
SOCSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and instruction K-7 Christy Maulding lauded West Elementary School’s performance.
“There are excellent teachers at West that focus on teaching and learning,” Maulding said. “We’ll be celebrating lots of things at West this year. We believe our third grade math teacher at West has the highest level of proficiency in the state.”
The scores represent a starting point for SOCSD’s administration, which features new faces in Maulding and new Superintendent Eddie Peasant. Maulding said the district will move to focus on instruction, rather than just teaching programs.
Peasant said the district will use the data to assess teachers and improve instruction.
“I don’t think there’s anything that beats a good teacher teaching a child one-on-one and face-to-face with good instruction, where they’ll be able to look at students and their needs,” he said. “We want them to put students in situations where they’re able to be most successful.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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