- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Student scores on a key state test fell in Mississippi schools in 2013-2014, a transitional year when school districts shifted teaching emphasis from old state standards to the new Common Core State Standards.

Education officials say that while school districts adjusted instruction to the new Common Core State Standards, students were still tested under the old standards.

Results released Tuesday by the Mississippi Department of Education show that scores on the Mississippi Curriculum Tests fell in almost all grades and subjects.

“The performance levels on state tests were lower this year as expected because the 2014 tests were not aligned to Mississippi’s higher academic standards,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “We are looking forward to implementing the state’s new assessments in 2015, which will provide a more meaningful measure of what students are currently learning in class.”

Tests for the new standards, developed by a multistate group, weren’t ready during the last school year, officials said.

State and federal authorities agreed not to penalize districts for falling test scores in the 2013-2014 year to encourage the changeover. Letter grades for individual schools and districts can rise if test scores improve, but are guaranteed not to go down. Because test scores mostly went down, few districts are likely to be able to improve their A-to-F letter grades.

Those grades for schools and districts, as well as high school graduation rates, are expected to be released next month.

“We’d be putting our children farther behind by not concentrating on what was coming this year,” Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said of his district’s emphasis on Common Core in 2013-2014. “I think everybody in the state understood they were going to take a hit.”

In grades 3-8, the average share of students scoring proficient or higher on language arts tests fell by 2.5 percentage points from 2012-2013. The average share of students scoring proficient or higher on math tests fell by 4.6 percentage points. State officials have said in the past that Common Core math classes will show bigger differences from Mississippi’s old standards than reading and language arts classes.

State officials released early data to reporters last week but they withheld how students performed on tests in many schools and school districts, claiming that releasing the numbers in small schools would endanger student privacy. They later released more complete data.

Some districts stuck to the old curriculum to some degree last year. Assistant Clinton Superintendent Tim Martin said his district feared parents would be concerned and confused if their children’s scores dropped.

“Being a high-performing school district, our community expects Clinton to be at or near the top of test scores,” Martin said.

Among last year’s 37,000 third-graders, 13 percent or 6,500 scored minimal, the lowest of four levels, on the state reading test. This year’s third-graders must pass a new computerized reading test to move on to fourth grade. Passing levels have yet to be set. The roughly 30-minute test will be given in April.

Students will take new tests this spring that Mississippi is helping develop through a multistate group called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Test scores typically dip any time a new standardized test is introduced. James Mason, Mississippi’s former state testing director, warned the state Board of Education in May that the PARCC tests will be “probably twice as hard” as current tests.

The state Department of Education had proposed an additional penalty-free year in 2014-2015 to cover the switch to new tests. But the U.S. Department of Education, which must approve Mississippi’s testing plan, has said a second grace year is unlikely.


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