The Neshoba County School District was the highest performing district on Mississippi’s statewide assessment of learning in kindergarten during the 2016-2017 school year, test results showed.

The majority of the state’s youngest students made significant gains during the academic year, with the average state-wide score exceeding the previous two school years.

The Neshoba County School District had a scale score average of 782 on the spring 2017 STAR Early Literacy exam, the highest of any district in the state. The score marked an improvement from the fall score of 510. Two-hundred-and-seventeen students took the test.

The state average score for the spring 2017 test was 710.

The STAR Early Literacy exam evaluates skills such as the ability to recognize letters and match letters to their sounds and a student’s recognition that print flows from left to right. The exam produces reports for parents and teachers that detail each child’s early reading skills. Teacher reports also include diagnostic information and instructional plans for every student.

Neshoba County Superintendent of Education Lundy Brantley was excited over his district’s performance on the exam.

“That’s where we want everybody,” he said. “These students will have a good leg up on being strong readers. They have the skills to break down words, decode and figure out the meaning based on other words around it.”

He credited the elementary school principal, kindergarten teachers and assistants.

“They obviously did a great job using data to find deficiencies and design centers to target those deficiencies,” Brantley said. “You don’t have to be an educator to know how important reading is. If kids can read, they are on the fast track to succeed.”

Neshoba Elementary Principal Tiffany Plott was excited about her school’s test scores which have continued to increase over the years.

She said teachers have worked hard on foundational skills, preparing students to be good readers.  

“The main thing we have done is building a strong phonics-based background,” Plott said. “This will be my fourth year here. We have put in place a phonics program which is the same across the board from kindergarten to third grade.”

Philadelphia Public School District had a scale score of 661 on the spring exam, up from the fall score of 524. One-hundred-and-six students took the test.

Union Public School District had a scale score of 769, up from the 478 on the fall 2016 exam. Sixty-nine students took the test.

Close to 37,000 kindergarteners statewide took the STAR Early Literacy exam in the fall and spring of the 2016-17 school year. The state average score for the fall test was 502. The average score climbed to 710 on the spring test. The score gain is greater than last year, which grew from 502 in the fall to 703 in the spring.

“Mississippi kindergarten teachers are continuing to do a great job helping students build the foundational literacy skills they need to be successful throughout their education,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Reading instruction must remain a major focus through the third grade so that all children complete elementary school with strong reading skills.”

Every district in the state showed progress among their kindergarten classes, though student achievement varied. District average scores ranged from 609 to 782.

Statewide, 65 percent of kindergarteners scored above the end-of-year target score of 681, which categorizes them as transitional readers. Students scoring at this level are beginning to read unfamiliar words and easy reader material, but are not yet independent readers. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, 63 percent met the target score, up from 54 percent in 2014-15.

Pre-K students in the state’s Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs) and other public pre-K classes for 4-year-olds also made steady gains on the STAR Early Literacy exam.

The average score among students in ELCs was 585, which exceeded the pre-K end-of-year target score of 498. The average score among 4-year-olds in other public pre-K classrooms was 549.

“I am proud of our state’s pre-K and kindergarten teachers and school leaders for their hard work and dedication to equipping our state’s youngest learners for success,” Wright said. “Our schools’ and teachers’ focus on literacy in the early years will have a significant impact on student achievement for years to come.”

View assessment results here: http://mdereports .mdek12.org/report1/r2016-17.aspx