Mississippi could drop high school history exam

Elize'a Scott, a Key Elementary School third grade student, right, reads under the watchful eyes of teacher Crystal McKinnis, left, Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

One of the four tests that Mississippi public school students take in high school may be going away.

A testing task force voted by email last week to recommend that the state Board of Education scrap a now-required U.S. history test.

Students formerly had to pass that test, plus exams in English, algebra and biology to graduate. Now, there are alternate routes to graduate, but some Mississippi students still don’t earn a diploma because they don’t qualify for any of the routes.

Teacher groups and others who say Mississippi students take too many tests are pushing for change. The history test is the only one not required by the federal government or state law, meaning only a vote by the board is required to scrap it.

“Teachers have said repeatedly we have too much testing,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators and a member of the task force who voted to abolish the test.

Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle said any change wouldn’t take place until after this year, meaning the test would be given at least one more time.

The history test also counts in the grading system under which high schools and districts are assigned A-to-F grades. Frequent changes to that system have been unpopular, but Riley said that’s a trade teachers are willing to make.

“I think teachers are willing to undergo a change to the rubric in exchange for less testing,” she said.

The recommendation will be considered next week by the state’s accreditation commission. If that group agrees, Guilfoyle said there were be “an extended period of public comment” before the state Board of Education voted. A minimum of nearly a month of comment is required under state law.

Guilfoyle said state Superintendent Carey Wright hasn’t taken a position on the proposed change.

“She has allowed the task force to do its work,” Guilfoyle said.

State Board of Education Chair Jason Dean of Madison said removing the test presents “serious policy questions,” including the requirement to change the grading model.

“I’ve got to do some thinking on this,” Dean said.

The test has also been unpopular because it’s typically taken at the end of junior year. That means a student who doesn’t pass has fewer opportunities to retake it, unlike courses that are typically offered in the freshman or sophomore year.

The state is paying testing company DRC of Maple Grove, Minnesota, $2.8 million this year to write and grade the history test, the high school biology test and science tests for fifth and eighth graders.

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