Analyzing data and developing strategies to raise student performance on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests is the goal for county and city schools, officials said.

The Mississippi Department of Education has released results from the first assessments administered in grades three through eight which measured Mississippi's students' progress toward the academic goals laid out in the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards. These standards were designed to ensure students develop the skills and knowledge they need in jobs and in college. 

As anticipated, student performance dropped from previous years' performance levels in English language arts and mathematics. For the 2014-2015 school year, assessments from the PARCC replaced the Mississippi Curriculum Test.

Both Neshoba County Schools and Philadelphia Public Schools overall scored below the state average in the top two performance categories in both math and English language arts.

Statewide, nearly a third of students in grades three through eight (30 percent) met or exceeded expectations for English language arts and less than a third of students (26 percent) met or exceeded expectations in mathematics.

"The PARCC assessments were far more demanding than previous state tests," said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. "The level of rigor was much closer to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and our test results reflected that. These results mark a new starting point for our students. With continued instruction and support, we expect to see test scores to increase over time,"

According to PARCC, the students scoring at Level 4 or 5, the top two performance categories, are meeting or exceeding expectations. The scores suggest that students have a thorough understanding of grade-level content and are on the right track to being ready for college-level coursework. 

Students scoring at Level 3 are approaching expectations and know a significant amount of content, but may need additional assistance in mastering all aspects of the standards.  Students scoring a Level 1 or 2 need more assistance in learning the content and are in need of greater supports.

Following national trends, about a quarter to a third (23 to 36 percent) of Mississippi students scored at Level 3, which indicates a large number of students are at the cusp of meeting expectations.

Neshoba Central saw 20.32 percent of its students scoring at Level 4 or 5 in math, the top two performance categories, while Philadelphia Public Schools saw 17.77 percent.

Philadelphia had 21.06 percent of students scoring in the two top levels in English while Neshoba had 20.86 percent.

Neshoba County Schools had 31.4 percent at the top two levels, meeting or exceeding expectations, for math in grade three; 10.5 percent in grade four; 19.6 percent in grade five; 15 percent in grade six; 20.9 percent in grade seven and 24.1 percent in grade eight.

Philadelphia Public Schools saw 24 percent meeting or exceeding expectations for math in grade three; 14.6 percent in grade four; 16.7 percent in grade five; 15.6 percent in grade six; 13.8 percent in grade seven and 20 percent in grade eight.

In English language arts, Neshoba County Schools had 13.9 percent at the top two levels, meeting or exceeding expectations, in grade three; 18 percent in grade four; 21.3 percent in grade five; 12.6 percent in grade six; 22.7 percent in grade seven and 36.5 percent in grade eight.

Philadelphia Public Schools saw 25 percent meeting or exceeding expectations in English language arts in grade three; 23.2 percent in grade four; 25.8 percent in grade five; 19.1 percent in grade six; 19 percent in grade seven and 12.9 percent in grade eight.

Incoming Neshoba County School District Superintendent of Education Joe Killens said he will be meeting with principals to discuss the scores and see what went right and what could be done differently for the upcoming year.

"We had some areas where we did pretty good, but we're never satisfied until a majority of the students are in the those top two levels," Killens said. "In some areas we really need to analyze the data and look at the way we are teaching and the strategies we are using."

With this being the first results on the PARCC assessment, Killens said administrators, teachers and students need time to adjust to the new standardized tests.

"We have a new test. It takes teachers and districts a year or two to adjust to what those new tests are asking," he said.

Philadelphia Public School District Superintendent of Education Lisa Hull said despite the test results just being published, the district has already implemented different teaching strategies in areas students were not performing well.

"We are trying to close some gaps and already have some things in place since the first day of school," Hull said. "We did a diagnostic test in December and we are seeing some pockets of growth. In two or three years, we are going to see tremendous growth in our district."

The superintendent said the district is not focusing on teaching the test.

"We are making sure our kids know what they will need to know regardless of the test," Hull said.

Overall, she said there were some high achievements on the

test, but there were also some areas that need more attention.

Hull said it was also nice to see how the district's students compared to other students who took the PARCC assessment in other states.

"It's good to get a baseline and see how we compare with other students in the country," she said.

In the 2015-2016 school year, Mississippi will be administering the Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) - which will replace the PARCC test. MAP will continue to provide meaningful feedback to parents, teachers, and students and let them know students' progress on the path to college and careers.

"MAP is a Mississippi-developed assessment that is aligned to the same standards for college and careers," said Dr. J.P. Beaudoin, MDE chief of research and development. "MAP assessments are designed to provide meaningful information to students, teachers and parents about student progress and achievement."

- Staff reporter Conor Bell contributed to this story.