Itawamba County students largely performed better on last year’s Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) that the previous year, according to information released by the Mississippi Department of Education, last week.

Compared to the 2018 results, fewer students scored in the bottom two levels of the state’s five-tiered scale in 2019, while more students scored in the top two levels.

The recently-released scores reflect tests given during the 2018-2019 school year. The tests assess student performance in math and language in grades 3-8, and English II and Algebra I in high school.

Test takers were scored in five different rankings, ranging from “Level 1” to “Level 5.” The former equates to a “minimum” level of understanding of the material; the latter represents an “advanced” understanding.

Just over 1,900 students took the tests.

The district saw growth in most areas over the year. According to Itawamba County Superintendent of Education Trae Wiygul, the current results reveal a school district moving in the right direction.

“We are very pleased with the results in a majority of our schools,” Wiygul told The Times via email. “Our growth was up at six out of our seven schools. Our proficiency levels were up a lot at IAC and Mantachie. These two schools had an increase in proficiency in every area of ELA and Math.”

Looking back at 2018’s scores reveals some of the growth. Dorsey Attendance Center students struggled on the state’s English Language Arts test in 2018. The school had the highest percentage of students who scored either Level 1 or 2 in four of the six grades tested.

The school’s students showed significant improvements on the following year’s test, with fewer students scoring in the bottom two levels and more students scoring in the top two.

For example, there was a slight dip in the number of Dorsey fourth graders who scored either Level 1 or 2 on the 2019 (31.6%) tests compared the previous year’s (32.4%). However, there was a sizable jump in that same group of students who scored either Level 4 or 5 in 2019 (47.4%) compared to 2018 (27%).

Last year’s fourth grade Dorsey students – now in fifth grade – also showed marked improvement. While 32.4% of Dorsey fourth grade students scored either Level 1 or 2 in 2018, only 19.5% of Dorsey fifth graders scored in the bottom two levels on the following year’s language test. More of those same students also scored either Level 4 or 5 on the most recent test – 27% in 2018 compared to 30.6% in 2019.

It was a similar story for the state’s elementary math test. As was the case with the language test, students at Dorsey struggled most with the math test. The school’s fifth, sixth and seventh grade classes had the county’ highest percentage of students scoring either Level 1 or 2 in 2018.

The school had fewer students in all three grades score on the bottom two levels in 2019. In the school’s sixth and seventh grade classes, more students scored either Level 4 or 5 than in the previous year, although the fifth grade class saw a dip in this number.

High school students also performed well. Tremont Attendance Center had the highest percentage of students who scored either Level 1 or Level 2 on the 2018 English II test (25%). That number dropped drastically on the 2019 test (11.5%) The number of Tremont students who scored either Level 4 or Level 5 also increased significantly from 2018 to 2019, from 35% to 53.8% – an increase of nearly 19%.

On the high school Algebra I exam, Itawamba Agricultural High School students, who had the highest percentage of Level 1 or Level 2 scores in 2018, performed better in 2019. Just over 5% of students scored in the bottom two levels last year; this year, it was 4.4%. Fewer students, however, scored within the top two spots this year, down from 66.1% in 2018 to 64.4% in 2019.

Looking at the county’s performance as a whole compared to the rest of the state, Itawamba County students performed as well as or better than the state average in most categories.

Local fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade students who took the English Language Arts test scored either Level 4 or Level 5 at higher percentages than the statewide average. In math, local elementary students surpassed the state averages of top-tier scorers in all grade levels tested.

High school students didn’t do quite as well. Local students who earned either Level 4 or Level 5 fell below the state average of 43.9% on the English II exam by 2.4%. As was the case on the elementary exams, math proved to be the stronger subject for most high school students. Test takers scored well above the state average of 49.3% proficiency on the Algebra I exam, beating it by a flat 10%

After last year’s somewhat lackluster results, the school district made a push to improve the overall score and decrease the number of students who scored in the bottom 25%.

Wiygul believes the current scores bear the fruits of that labor.

An average of around 35% of the county’s students scored Level 3 on the MAAP exams, a designation which equates with passing but not proficiency. Wiygul said he’d like to see this number bleed into the next two tiers.

“We must continue to push for these kids to reach a [Level] 4,” he said. “If they reach a [Level] 4, we score in both proficiency and growth.”

Growth, or the percentage of students who performed better from one year to the next, is one of the primary goals the Mississippi Department of Education sets for schools throughout the state.

Overall, Wiygul said these recent results are a shot-in-the arm.

“It means a lot to us,” he said of the growth. “We will use the positive results to push for even more. We will celebrate these positive scores and work even harder to get to that ‘A’ district status.”

The school district is currently ranked a “B.” Rankings based on the most recent scores will be released in October.

“We are definitely on the right track,” Wiygul said. “We have a great group of students, teachers administrators and staff who aren’t afraid of hard work and making sure that we make the most of every day. I am extremely proud of the direction that our schools are heading in.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com

Twitter: @admarmr

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