State test scores across the Golden Triangle decreased overall in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning.
The Mississippi Department of Education released test scores today for 2020-21 Mississippi Academic Assessment Program testing. The test includes English-language arts and math scores for grades 3-8, as well as Algebra I and English II for the high school and middle school levels. This is the first year since the pandemic began students were tested. Students were not required to take assessments in 2019-20.
The test scores are separated into five levels. Students who fall into levels 1 and 2 did not pass the state assessments, whereas in levels 3, 4 and 5 students passed. Scoring in the upper two levels (4 and 5) is considered proficient.
In years past, students who did not pass certain high-stakes tests (third grade reading and end-of-course tests on the high school level) were not allowed to advance to the next grade or graduate. Due to COVID-19 disruptions, third-grade students were not required to meet a passing score on the reading assessment to be promoted, nor were students who took required end-of-course high school assessments, including Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History.
Historically, benchmark testing has factored into school districts’ accountability ratings — given on an A-F scale to each public school district — but that was also suspended in 2020-21 due to COVID-19.
Columbus Municipal School District’s scores decreased overall in most areas compared to 2019’s test scores.
Only 43.5 percent of third graders passed the ELA assessment compared to 64.4 percent in 2019. Only grades 6 and 8 had 50 percent or more students pass the ELA test, and in English II, only 32 percent of students passed compared to 73.9 percent in 2019.
In math, only 34.6 percent of third-graders passed compared to over 50 percent in 2019. Fewer than half passed the math assessment in each grade, except for Algebra I students, 57.1 percent of whom passed compared to 81.3 percent in 2019. This year 46.7 percent of the students scored on Level 3, which is considered passing but less than proficient.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said she believes students in the district performed to their maximum potential on the assessments due to the difficult times they were experiencing. She said so many students maintaining Level 3 gives the district a springboard for growth to proficiency in the future.
“I think trauma affected the test scores,” Labat said. “I think there’s never been a time in the history of education where the whole system has been under trauma and in a very fragile environment in dealing with life and death, both teachers and students.”
Labat said CMSD’s most important goal is to ensure students are college and career ready. To make up for learning loss over the last year and a half, she said the district is working on initiatives to evaluate instruction more effectively by ensuring best practices are implemented and making sure students are engaged.
“We’ll progress forward for what’s best for our students by ensuring that we accelerate by focusing on social and emotional wellness, and we continue to innovate through this process and stay focused on our students that they are college and career prepared,” Labat said.
Lowndes County School District
Lowndes County School District was the only district across the Golden Triangle in which more than 50 percent of its students scored at least Level 3 on all exams for 2020-21, though some scores were down significantly compared to 2019.
For ELA, 71.1 percent of third graders passed, with 41.7 percent landing in levels 4 and 5. That’s down from 83 percent passing in 2019. Grade 5 performed exceptionally well with 88.5 percent of students passing the tests, which actually increased from 2019’s 85.8 percent, and 56.6 percent of students scored proficient. In English II, 61.8 percent of students passed the test, compared to 84.5 percent in 2019.
LCSD third graders scored a 73.8 percent pass rate in math, compared to 86 percent in 2019. The highest math score in the district was in seventh grade, where 84 percent of students passed.
Algebra I students had an overall 77.7 percent passing rate with 37.5 in levels 4 and 5, while 90.9 percent passed in 2019.
While LCSD had all passing averages, test scores overall decreased from 2019. Superintendent Sam Allison said he was not surprised that scores lowered due to COVID-19, and he did not have any expectations for the tests.
“The main thing it showed is that we need to be in school,” Allison said. “Our scores were OK, but they weren’t where they usually are for our district. … It’s not about a test. It’s about meeting kids where they are.”
Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District third-grade students had a 55.5 percent passing rate compared to 71.6 percent in 2019. More than 50 percent of students in grades 3-8 passed ELA exams, with grade 6 being the lowest among those at exactly 50 percent passing. Only 45.7 percent of students passed the English II exam compared to 60.4 percent in 2019.
In math, 58.6 percent of third graders passed the assessment, compared to 72.6 percent in 2019. All grades in the district saw a more than 50 percent pass rate in math, with grade 5 performing the best at 68.2 percent passing. SOCSD Algebra I students had a 50.7 percent passing rate, compared to 78.4 in 2019.
SOCSD had more students score in Level 3 instead of levels 4 and 5 compared to years past, and Superintendent Eddie Peasant said he is not surprised. He said he believes virtual learning affected the overall performance, and many students had limitations over the last year, such as a lack of reliable, high-speed internet service in parts of the county.
“I think we really have to stop and ask ourselves, ‘Is a single number score really reflective of the tremendous work of our teachers, students and families during the past year?’ I certainly don’t think so,” Peasant said. “I don’t know how we quantify the previous 18 months in a single test.”
To make up for learning loss, Peasant said the district is investing money into students who were most greatly affected by the pandemic. This includes 21 certified teachers who are specifically tasked with working with small groups of students who need additional support and an expansion of tuition-free pre-kindergarten.
“I am really proud of the work of our students and teachers,” Peasant said. “… Our district’s instructional approach is focused on the growth of our students, and it is impossible to compare pre-pandemic scores in 2019 to scores in 2021. These scores reflect a new starting point.
West Point Consolidated and Noxubee County school districts
Only 37 percent of West Point Consolidated School District third graders passed the ELA assessment compared to 72.2 percent in 2019. All other grades achieved a 50 percent or better pass rate in ELA except for grade 6, in which only 48.2 percent passed. In English II, 63.1 percent of students passed the assessment, which is about where students were in 2019 when 63.7 percent passed.
Seventh graders achieved a 67.6 percent pass rate in math, compared to 71.7 percent in 2019. All other grades in 3-8 were less than 50 percent. In Algebra I, 73.7 percent of students passed compared to 85.9 percent in 2019.
In ELA at Noxubee County School District, only grade 5 achieved more than a 50 percent pass rate, with a 56 percent passing. Only 30.5 percent of third-grade students in NCSD had a passing score, compared to 48.3 percent in 2019. English II had 49.1 percent of students pass compared to 52.2 percent in 2019.
No grades in math showed a 50 percent pass rate at NCSD. Only 11.8 percent of third-grade students passed the math exam, with only 2.2 percent in levels 4 and 5, compared to 39.2 percent in 2019. In Algebra I, only 36.5 percent of students passed with no students in levels 4 and 5, compared to 76.2 percent passing in 2019.