Test results to aid in monitoring growth

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Lamar County educators are continuing to study last week’s release of the 2016-17 Mississippi Academic Assessment Program results showing overall proficiency in certain subject areas in the first of three pieces in the assessment process.

Although the results are from the previous school year, Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said the results are important now.

“It most definitely follows that student to the next year and it helps that current teacher,” she said. “When that child enters that classroom, the teacher has all that mass of data and knows, ‘OK, I need to grow this particular child this way.’ They can look and chart that student and it’s more individualized. When we give the NWEA (a test to track progress) again, the teacher can look at the two data points and continue to make examples. For example, in math we have a fractions issue and you have to go back and reteach to get them where you want them to be.

“Thankfully, we’re getting to where we can do some direct comparisons and that’s when it’s going to be valuable to all of us.”

Looking closer at the MAAP scores, Smith said improvement is needed, but growth was seen.

“We’re still lacking some pieces, especially in our high schools,” she said. “But looking at all the other schools, you can see growth. So of course, I am very happy about that. I’m proud of every school, but Baxterville has shown some areas of growth. If you look at their third grade, they were 100 percent on that in the pass rate and they had some strong science scores.”

One area of lower results occurred in fourth-grade English Language Arts.

“You just don’t know the direct cause,” she said. “We’re at the point where we’re dissecting everything, and as it continues to come in, this is our window where if we have any questions or concerns about anything, we can submit that to MDE now.”

Donna Rigel, the district’s Director of Accountability and Research, said the lower fourth-grade scores occurred statewide.

“Though we are still higher than the state, our dip follows the same trend as the state saw with this group,” she said. “This is partly due to the Literacy Based Promotion Act from students moving to fourth grade based on the good cause exemption. This was the first year that MAAP was used for promotion in the third grade. … Though most of these students are in tutoring all year, many have further to grow than some of their peers.”

Rigel also said math scores improved in the upper grades.

“Sixth grade is often a year when it is hard to make growth, especially in math,” she said. “This grade has the most standards to cover. Sumrall Middle School and Oak Grove Middle School did exceptionally well with overall growth and proficiency in math. As a district, we fared better this year in math than we did before. With this being the second year of the MAAP, teachers and students have a better understanding of the rigor that is involved.”

Smith said having a common curriculum plan is helping teachers.

“We’re getting back to where we’re having our curriculum plan, so that every teacher knows what to teach,” she said. “Now the focus is that we will shift from that with those who already have those guides to work on common assessments. So when a teacher finishes a particular unit, they can all give the same test. So when they meet in the Professional Learning Communities, they can really dig down into the data.”

The PLCs have drawn a stronger focus this school year, Smith said.

“We actually retrained all of our PLC leaders because we’ve just seen a lot of potential there,” she said. “Two heads are always better than one, so when you get a group of educators around and they teach the same thing, it is beneficial.”

New state standards in science instruction is also having an effect on local teachers, Smith said.

“This year with the implementation of the new state science standards, teachers in all grades will be using a more inquiry-based, hands-on approach to help students deepen their understanding of these concepts,” she said. “This is a much more rigorous curriculum that what we have had in the past.”

While accountability “grades” will not be released until October, the state tests are a component with the release of the district’s proficiency level for the past school year.

Smith also said Wednesday that a shipping error delayed delivery of testing scores for Baxterville School. The data files were updated on Aug. 18, one day after the public release.

A shipping box containing Baxterville grades 3-8 testing documents was not properly labeled at the district level when it was sent to Questar, the testing company. When the error was realized, the testing company and MDE were immediately told and the box was correctly labeled and shipped. The tests were scored and the data submitted to MDE.

MDE said it will cite Lamar County for breaking protocol related to the chain of custody of secure testing items. Smith has ordered an internal investigation into the processes relating to test custody and has requested an investigation by MDE.

"We are reviewing all of our processes and have requested the full MDE investigation to ensure this error never occurs again," Smith said.