TUPELO • The Mississippi Department of Education released its Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) results for the 2020-21 school year Thursday afternoon — the first concrete data showing the extent of learning loss experienced by Mississippi students since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Mississippi's state testing was suspended for the 2019-20 school year, but returned in 2020-21 with a couple of caveats.

Third graders were required to take the third grade reading/language arts assessment, but were not required to pass it in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.

Likewise, all eligible students who took courses with required end-of-course assessments like Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History weren't required to meet a passing score to graduate.

State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright said during a press conference Wednesday that mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency decreased for the first time since math tests were administered in 2016.

Here are some key takeaways from the statewide report:

  • For 2020-21, overall math proficiency was at 35.1%, down from 47.4% in 2018-19. That's a 12.3% point drop.
  • Overall ELA proficiency was at 34.9% last year, down from 41.6% in 2018-19. That's a 6.7% point drop.
  • Statewide proficiency levels fell in all grades except Grade 8 ELA, which increased by .1% to 35.6% proficiency.

The disruption and stress caused by COVID-19 has had an impact on student performance on every state in the country, Wright said, which is why "this year establishes a new baseline for statewide assessments."

"These assessment results provide valuable information about the impact the pandemic has had on learning and will identify where accelerated learning opportunities for students are most needed," Wright said. 

The U.S. Department of Education waived a requirement that schools test 95% of students during the 2020-21 school year, but MDE strongly encouraged all schools and districts to test as many students as they possibly could, including full-time virtual learners who had to come back to campus to take the assessments.

"The participation rate for our assessments was 96.9%," Wright said. "That was huge for us. In fact, the previous rates in prior years were between 98% and 99%, so this is a real hats off to teachers and leaders across the state who did the very best that they could to get all of our children in school and get them tested."

Tupelo Public School District

Tupelo Public School District's 2020-21 math and ELA scores were both above the state average.

Tupelo's overall proficiency level for math was 46.1%, 11 points higher than the state average of 35.1%. The district's overall proficiency level for ELA was 41.7%, 6.9 points higher than the state average of 34.8%.

TPSD Superintendent Dr. Rob Picou said a drop in test scores was expected because of learning loss during the pandemic, but Tupelo has already started the process of addressing it.

At the same time, the district is excited to have its scores remain well above the state average.

"Hats off to our great teachers who have been working through this pandemic," Picou said. "Given the hardships that are a result of the pandemic, they have been steadfast in their commitment to academic excellence. We’re excited about what they’ve been able to accomplish."

TPSD Deputy Superintendent Kim Britton said one of the ways Tupelo is addressing learning loss is by placing a certified interventionist, someone to work on reading with students who need the most help one-on-one or in small groups, in every K-5 school.

Along with providing summer school opportunities for students, the district has also purchased additional curriculum resources to implement in the classroom.

For some students, social-emotional issues, many of which may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, must be addressed so that they can be ready and receptive to learning.

“Sometimes you can’t get to the academic needs because the student has emotional needs,” Britton said. “So we are meeting the children where they are academically and emotionally.”

Britton said the district has added social-emotional therapists and counselors to each campus, implemented a social-emotional curriculum and is looking into purchasing a universal screener to assess the individual needs of each student.

TPSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brock English said district administrators will drill down into the test scores to find out exactly which standards weren’t mastered by students and then rearrange curriculum maps and pacing guides to ensure they’re being taught with fidelity along with essential standards that students will continue to see in future years.

For example, knowing that a student missed eight out of 50 questions doesn’t tell the district anything. But finding out which standards those eight missed questions were a part of can help teachers rearrange lesson plans to make sure they meet the target for standards that weren’t mastered.

Picou said any decline in the district's test scores lower scores are a direct result of COVID-19

"You can't separate COVID-19 from those scores," Picou said. "I’m fully confident that those scores are going to increase now that we have kids in school every day, and that’s why it’s so important to keep our eye on COVID-19 and keep kids in school every day."

Lee County School District

Lee County School District's 2020-21 math score was above the state average while its ELA score matched the state's.

Lee County's overall proficiency level for math was 37.3%, 2.2 points higher than the state average of 35.1%. The district's overall proficiency level for ELA was 34.8%, same as the state average of 34.8%.

LCSD Superintendent Coke Magee said the first step in addressing any decline in the district's scores will be to determine the predominant factor contributing to the decline.

Many students participated in virtual learning early in the pandemic and were out of the classroom for much or all of the 2020-21 school year, leading to learning loss.

"While we did anticipate test scores maybe not improving from the 2019 school year, we’re proud of the work we did," Magee said. "I’m proud of my teachers, I'm proud of our administrators, and I’m proud of our students. We had a great school year and we’re going to use those test scores to find ways to make improvements just like we do every year."

Like Tupelo, Lee County Schools are already taking action to reverse student learning loss.

One of the first steps was to host a three-week summer school program in June for more than 700 struggling kindergarten through 12th grade students who were recommended by teachers.

Those in kindergarten through eighth grades participated in remediation, while ninth through 12th graders also had the chance at credit recovery for classes they failed to pass during the 2020-21 school year.

The summer school program was funded with federal COVID-19 relief money and is planned to continue through at least summer 2024 with additional federal funding.

The district has also brought in retired teachers and other tutors to work closely with students who are struggling with grade level work, Magee said.

"We’re going to have people in front of our students, working in small groups, helping to decrease the effects of that learning loss from last year," Magee said.

The district purchased Chromebooks for each of its students last year and has hired an instructional technology lead to help teachers on each campus effectively integrate technology into the classroom.

The effects of learning loss continue to be seen this year, and there's no easy solution.

"This is not something that we’re going to fix in a year," Magee said. "I don’t think we can make up that distance in one year, but we are working towards it."

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