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Tests show school improvements, needs

A Mississippi Department of Education report released Thursdayshows generally positive trends in state assessment testing, butalso reveals a few areas where more emphasis may be needed.

The State Assessment Results report for school year 2003-2004combines the aggregate scores for Mississippi public schoolstudents on the state’s curriculum test and Subject Area TestingProgram.

State testing was conducted in May and the results weretabulated over the summer. A second report, which will be releasedin mid-August, will further break down the information into howindividual school districts fared in the testing.

Dr. Prentiss Smith, president of the Brookhaven School DistrictBoard of Trustees, said he felt the state did well and hoped thedistrict will fare as well when those results are compiled.

“I haven’t seen them yet, but my preliminary understanding isthe scores have gone up and our board, as well as all the citizensaround the state, should be pleased that our public school scoresare going in a positive direction,” he said. “We feel likeBrookhaven will follow that trend when those scores are releasednext month.”

Lawrence County School District Superintendent Russell Caudillagreed.

“In the past few years, Mississippi has shown more progress thanmost states and I expect that trend to continue this year,” hesaid.

The state of Mississippi’s education prior to the establishmentof the accountability inherent to the No Child Left Behind Act of2001 was poorer than in other states, he said, and givesMississippi more room to advance quickly.

“We probably had more room for improvement in general (thanother states), but I think the hard work everyone has put into itis paying off,” Caudill said. “We have very dedicated and qualifiedteachers, and that has allowed Mississippi to show a lot ofprogress in the last few years.”

It was the fourth year for the state to administer theMississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) and the fourth year for the stateto either show improvements or remain stable at nearly every level.The MCT tests students in grades 2-8 in reading, language andmath.

The 2004 scale scores were higher than the scores in 2003 in allcontent areas at all grade levels except for grade 2 reading andmathematics, grade 5 reading and grade 6 language.

Student performance on the MCT is also assessed foraccountability by meeting certain academic standards with everystudent’s score falling into one of four proficiency levels -Minimal, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. Students at the Basiclevel display partial mastery of the material while thosecategorized as Proficient demonstrate mastery of the content areaand skills required for success at the next grade level.

The goal of the No Child Left Behind Act is to move all studentsfrom the Minimal and Basic levels to Proficient by 2006.

Mississippi students at the Basic level or higher increasedtheir scores or remained constant at all grade levels in reading.In language and math, the percentage increased at every grade.

The percentage of students scoring at the Proficient level orhigher increased at all grade levels in all content areas exceptfor grade 7 reading and grade 6 language, where it remainedconstant, and in grade 8 language, which dropped by one point.

The Mississippi Subject Area Testing Program (SATP) testsstudents on their knowledge of Algebra I, Biology I, U.S. Historyand English II. English II is further broken down into twocategories, a multiple choice test and a writing assessment, whichincludes narrative and informative essays.

According to the report, students improved in every area of theSATP except the English II writing assessments, which droppedslightly. However, those scores are expected to fluctuate from yearto year because multiple writing prompts are used, the writingprompts are changed for each administration, and they can not bestatistically compared.

This is the third year the SATP counted as a graduationrequirement for students taking the test.