South Mississippi schools improved on state test scores this year, the first since 2013 that students took the same test after being taught under the same academic standards as the previous year.
The Mississippi Department of Education on Thursday released the 2016-17 scores for the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, which measures performance in English Language Arts and mathematics in grades 3-8, as well as in English II and Algebra I in high school.
Last spring was the second time students took the new MAAP tests after the public school system, under political pressure, dropped out of the multistate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests.
All 16 school districts in South Mississippi had improved performances for this year’s tests, with a total of 6,505 test takers.
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Fourteen districts surpassed the state average for the number of students who passed the MAAP. Scores fall into five categories: minimal, basic, passing, proficient and advanced. Minimal and basic are considered non-passing scores.
All but one school district in South Mississippi had more than 60 percent of students pass the MAAP, and only two schools fell below state average.
Top of the list
In South Mississippi, Ocean Springs School District had the highest percentage of students who scored passing grades with 84.71 percent of students having at least a general mastery of the knowledge and skills required for success in the course at grade level.
Long Beach School District had the second highest percentage of students passing with 82.65 percent, and Biloxi School District was third with 81.29 percent of students passing.
“I would say it is a testament to the good teaching in our district,” said Ocean Springs Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter. “The scores are a byproduct of the instruction, and it really validates the work we have been doing over the years.”
Coleman-Potter attributed part of the district’s success to the way students are taught, in that the state tests are not the focus of instruction.
“We don’t harp on numbers; we harp on children,” she said. “We focus on applied teaching so that students learn the material at a deeper level and can really understand what they are being taught. Part of that comes from how innovative and creative our teachers are. Teachers work with other teachers to keep that integrity and engagement in the curriculum.”
However, these scores do not mean the district will be resting on its laurels.
“We also see these scores as a cautionary tale,” Coleman-Potter said. “We always strive to continue to grow, so having high scores is a challenge in that there is not as much room for that growth. We are proud of the success, but we want to put that in the rear-view mirror and continue forward. We still hope to have all of our schools in the district A-rated, and we will continue to strive toward that goal.”
Coleman-Potter does ask one favor from the community in light of the recent scores.
“If you see a Greyhound, congratulate them,” she said. “I want to say hats off to the administration staff. We are a lean team, but we don’t let that hold us back. This is a great school district. I’ve always said that. You can tell these are people who really love Greyhounds.”
Room to improve
Moss Point had 49.62 percent of students pass, 15.44 percentage points below the state average, and again the lowest in South Mississippi. However, the scores are an improvement from the 2015-16 school year, up 2.71 percent in English language arts and 4.89 percent in math.
“I’m very proud of the work the students and teachers have done,” said Superintendent Shannon Vincent. “We have worked hard to make sure our students have opportunities to grow. When I looked at accountability model, we improved in seven of 11 categories, so I see we still have areas to make improvement and maintain the growth and increase proficiency.”
While Vincent acknowledged the low scores, she did mention one of her goals was to keep the district on a path of growth.
“When I started, one of the goals the board gave me was to try to ensure Moss Point remained competitive amongst local school districts,” she said. “We are making steady gains, and we are working with other school districts to ensure we are giving the same amount of instruction and attention to our students. It will take more than a year to regain that footing. It will take the next couple of years to improve when our proficiency numbers were so low, but we’ve already seen tremendous growth in ACT scores, third grade gate and kindergarten readiness.”
Making leaps and bounds
Seeing a 6.94 percent improvement in scores, Poplarville School District officials credit the success to a new approach to teaching.
“We’re pretty proud of the efforts put in place last year,” said Konya Miller, assistant superintendent. “We’ve done some more targeted teaching through online diagnostics in reading and math to measure what areas students are doing really well in and what areas they need more help in.”
With 79.58 percent of students passing, Poplarville ranked sixth among South Mississippi school districts.
“This year, we hope to target grade levels that made more growth and analyze what worked and share those strategies across the district. See why it worked here and how to implement it across the board.”
Statewide, 22 districts in the state had more than 45 percent of students score at proficient or advanced in English language arts, up from 14 districts the previous year. And 32 districts had more than 45 percent of students score at at proficient or advanced in math, up from 15 districts.
Achievement typically rises in the second year of a test as teachers and students become more familiar with what’s expected.
“Student achievement in Mississippi is steadily improving, thanks to the hard work and focused efforts of teachers, administrators, parents and students,” said Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “We have raised expectations for what students can accomplish, and our students are meeting and exceeding these higher expectations.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Increase in passing scores from 2015-2016
Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District
Biloxi Public School District
George County School District
Gulfport School District
Hancock County School District
Harrison County School District
Jackson County School District
Long Beach School District
Moss Point School District
Ocean Springs School District
Pascagoula-Gautier School District
Pass Christian School District
Pearl River County School District
Picayune School District
Poplarville Separate School District
Stone County School District
MAAP tests have five levels:
Level 1: Minimal — Student inconsistently demonstrates the knowledge or skills that define basic-level performance.
Level 2: Basic — Student demonstrates partial mastery of the knowledge and skills in the course and may experience difficulty in the next grade or course in the content area.
Level 3: Passing — Student demonstrates general mastery of the knowledge and skills required for success in the grade or course in the content area. Student is able to perform approaching or at the level of difficulty, complexity, or fluency specified by the grade-level content standards.
Level 4: Proficient — Student demonstrates solid academic performance and mastery of the knowledge and skills required for success in the grade or course in the content area.
Level 5: Advanced — Student consistently performs in a manner clearly beyond that required to be successful in the grade or course in the content area.