VWSD students behind in math, tests find

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 21, 2009

The numbers are in and show too many local grade-schoolers can’t add them up.

Average math scores on state-required tests lag as much as 22 percentage points behind Mississippi averages for grades 3 through 8.

By the numbers

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Grade level scores for 2008 and 2009, click here

Complete school-by-school results can be found by clicking here

Otherwise, results of last spring’s testing, released today by the Mississippi Department of Education, show little change from the previous round of testing,

Dr. James Price, superintendent of the 9,000-student Vicksburg Warren School District, stopped short of expressing disappointment, but said the state’s tinkering with curriculum requirements and material on tests has been “frustrating.”

“Our students responded as it was expected they would,” Price said. “It takes time for teachers to adjust to a new curriculum and for students to adjust to new teacher strategies and assessments.”

Students now take what’s called the MCT2 — Mississippi Curriculum Test, Second Edition. All public elementary and junior high students take the same tests in May while secondary students are taking the more specific subject-area tests in algebra, United States history, biology and English.

Vicksburg students were consistently outperformed in mathematics at all testing levels. In algebra, 68.4 percent of Mississippi high school students passed the May test, while just 52.6 percent of Vicksburg’s high-schoolers passed.

Students statewide topped local scores in all other subject areas at the secondary level, too.

The results, however, were announced three days after ACT reports showed college-bound students here on par with state averages.

A frequent complaint by administrators is how frequently the state changes its expectations of what students should know. When introduced, MCT2 was described as a more rigorous assessment of a student’s mastery of content in both math and language arts. Committees of grade and subject teachers, nominated by superintendents, met to set standards for individual grades and identified groups of test items that measured performance levels as minimal, basic, proficient and advanced.

Formerly, districts and schools were ranked Level 1 to Level 5. Under the new approach, begun in the 2007-2008 school year, the scale will be broader and rank schools from failing to star school. Individual school rankings were not yet available. Price said they were not expected for several weeks, as certain districts go through an appeal process to settle disputed scores.

Individual districts then had to go back and retool their curricula to meet the tougher standards.

“It put us back at a new starting point,” Price said, “and it takes several years to build back up again.”

Price said that during the last school year, students were tested with weekly “benchmark” tests. Failing students were also given the opportunity to attend intercession classes after each nine-week marking period. At elementary and junior high levels, intercession courses targeted math and reading skills, while secondary students practiced subject-area-test taking strategies.

Scoring is complex and includes dozens of different categories and demographic statistics. Complete school-by-school results can be found at http://orsap.mde.k12.ms.us:8080/MAARS/index.jsp.

The tables show Bowmar Elementary, a districtwide magnet school, with more students than other district schools scoring in the advanced category except in third-grade math, where more Redwood Elementary students were advanced, and sixth-grade math, where Beechwood was tops. Nearly a third of Bowmar’s fifth-grade math students scored at the advanced level.

As the district analyzes the multitude of statistics the state has provided and awaits updated school designations, Price said the focus will remain on testing benchmarks and remediating weaknesses. “That’s exactly why we created intercession. It’s an opportunity to have the children we need longer.” He expects intercession courses to be more effective this year.

“Over time the students will adjust and perform at a higher level, but it takes time,” Price said. “They are learning more than they ever have, and we are pushing them harder.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com