Many Mississippi public school teachers and students can breathe a sigh of relief Thursday.
In response to the challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mississippi State Board of Education followed the recommendations made by State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright and announced changes to grading and passing requirements Thursday. The Board voted to suspend three statewide policies on assessment and accountability for the 2020-21 school year.
All required assessments, state and federal, will still be administered, but the policy suspensions mean schools and districts will not receive A through F letter grades for their performance for the school year.
Under normal circumstances, Mississippi schools and districts receive a grade of A through F under an accountability system. The grade reflects their performance in areas such as student achievement, student growth, graduation rate and participation rate, which measures the percentage of students who participate in statewide testing and how well the students perform.
No A through F letter grades will be assigned to schools and districts for the 2020-21 school year because the MDE will not have sufficient data to calculate grades based on state and federal requirements. Instead, schools and districts will retain their most recent grades earned in the 2018-19 school year. This will be the second year in a row for schools to retain the previous years’ grade.
“Our schools, our teachers and our children are under a lot of pressure about this,” Wright said in a state Senate Education Committee meeting, “but knowing we have not had a standard way of instructing children — to hold children accountable, I do not feel is fair.”
The board also decided that third graders will not be required to pass a reading test to advance to fourth grade and high school students do not have to pass end-of-course assessments to meet graduation requirements. All students must still meet district standards and requirements for passing.
The assessments will still be given, however.
“This year’s statewide assessments will provide valuable information about the impact of COVID-19 on learning and will help identify where accelerated learning opportunities for students are most needed,” Wright said in the committee’s most recent meeting. “The policy suspensions are intended to support schools through this intensely challenging year for educators and students.”
MDE will report results of all statewide assessments during 2020-21 and submit information and a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education to meet federal requirements for assessment and accountability.
Tori Ferguson of Vicksburg is one parent who is “definitely relieved.” Her son, Gunner, is a third grader at Bowmar Elementary School.
“The state department’s decision is a weight off my mind,” Ferguson said. “I know Gunner is smart, and his teachers have done an excellent job preparing him, but that test was a lot of pressure at a time when all the kids haven’t even been able to attend class regularly. I’m sure his teachers can rest a little easier at night now, too.”