The latest round of state test scores tied to Mississippi's new college and career readiness standards offered few coastwide or statewide conclusions about student performance.
But education officials hope districts can use the data to further develop instruction and help students who need it most.
The state Department of Education on Thursday released results from math and English portions of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career for third-through-eighth-graders. It is the first release of test scores for those grades tied to the more-rigorous standards.
The first round of high school PARCC test results for Algebra I and English II was released last month.
Those high school scores provided fairly broad conclusions: Ten of the 11 Coast districts scored higher than the state and the rest of the testing consortium as a whole in English and math, and in English, Mississippi scored better as a whole than the 11-state consortium -- which includes Washington D.C.
The third-through-eighth-grade scores show more variation.
There are wide disparities in average scores of different grades and subjects between and within districts.
Still, this is the first objective measure of how third-through-eighth-graders are measuring up to the standards. They serve as a baseline, officials said.
And as a way to help educators moving forward.
"One of the first things we're doing is contacting districts who saw the level of success they did and find out to what the attribute that success," said state education superintendent Carey Wright. "What are their strategies? What did they put in place?
"We'll find that out and share it across the state. So districts who did not see that level of success can learn from those who did."
As with the high school scores, the PARCC tests divide student scores into five levels. Level 4 or 5 indicates the student is meeting or exceeding expectations and is on track to be ready for college or the workforce. Level 3 indicates a student is close to meeting grade-level expectations but still has some gaps in his or her knowledge in that subject area. Levels 1 and 2 show serious shortcomings in a student's skills in a particular subject.
Scores varied among districts, subjects and grade levels.
The Ocean Springs School District did the best in third-grade English, with 52 percent of students achieving a 4 or 5. In sixth-grade English, Pass Christian was on top with 59 percent of students getting a 4 or 5.
In eighth-grade math, Gulfport and Hancock County did the best with 44 percent of students achieving a 4 or 5, though Hancock County was among the lower performers in fourth-grade math with only 19 percent of students achieving those scores.
Officials from several Coast districts said they were proud of their scores overall while acknowledging work to be done in some areas.
"While we would have liked to have seem more students score levels 4 and 5, Gulfport students did outscore the PARCC consortium in third, seventh and eighth grades in English language arts and third, fourth, fifth and eighth grades in mathematics," said Carla Evers, the director of instructional programs for Gulfport schools. "I believe this is a testament that students in Mississippi can compete with students from around the country and the world."
Biloxi officials lauded the district's teachers for its performance.
"In most areas we exceeded the state average and national average," said Karen Norwood, the district's assistant superintendent for secondary programs and testing, "which makes us very excited because it tells us the instructional methods we've put into place, the students are responding to them.
"The teachers are working hard and it's paid off. They've worked hard, planned together, totally respond to collaborating together. They're a close-knit team and they've certainly made it work."
Statewide, 26 percent of all students tested scored a 4 or 5 in math and 59 percent tested with at least a Level 3.
In English, 30 percent scored at a level 4 or 5 and more than 60 percent scored at least a 3.
The Coast as a whole did better than the state average on this round of testing. But the results were not as consistently higher as in the high school tests.
In sixth-grade math, for example, nine of 11 Coast districts tested better than the state average and eight tested better that the national average. In sixth-grade English, though, only three districts did better than the 11-state consortium as a whole.
Eighth-grade math is the only grade and subject in which Mississippi did better than the consortium, and nine Coast districts tested better than both the state and consortium.
This round of testing was the first and last time Mississippi can directly compare its own performance with that of students from across the country. Many in the state were pleasantly surprised to find it among the top performers in English II and close to the consortium average in Algebra I.
But the state opted to leave the PARCC consortium after this year and move to the Mississippi Assessment Program, administered by Questar Assessments Inc.
Though the new test will be tied to the same standards, it will be administered only in Mississippi.
"It is unfortunate because that, as you know, was the original intent," Wright said. "The ability to know how your children are faring against other states is always a good thing to have. I think what the state chiefs have been talking about is how could we then be looking forward and be forward thinking in what we could put in place to get a sense of how are children are faring across the nation."
Though the test will change, educators said keeping the same readiness standards would allow them to use this data to make any needed curriculum adjustments for next year, and determine which children need extra help in which areas.
Moss Point Superintendent Shannon Vincent said she was disappointed in the district's scores, which were among the lowest on the Coast, but said they served as a good baseline for her first year with the district.
"This is a good point for us to review and revise what is happening and make adjustments to make more significant gains in student achievement," she said. "The good news is, we have no choice but to improve."
Vincent said the data for Moss Point clearly showed deficiencies in reading, which has been a focus over the school year and will continue to be addressed.
"We are all aware that what gets measured gets done," Vincent said, adding, "We use this data, as well as other district data, to determine the direction of our instruction. These individual and class reports can give us a laser-like focus on the students' needs, academic strengths and challenges."
Gulfport and Biloxi officials also said they would use the scores to focus on areas that need improvement.
And state officials emphasized the importance of the scores, even with the change in testing.
"We are and will remain committed to higher standards, whether children want to go to college, the workplace, the military, it doesn't matter," Wright said. "Children need to be able to think critically and solve complex problems."