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Mississippi Schools Chief: Ease Mandates on Some Tests

Mississippi high school students will take end-of-course exams and third graders will take mandated reading assessments this spring, state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told lawmakers Wednesday. Photo by Imani Khayyam

Mississippi high school students will take end-of-course exams and third graders will take mandated reading assessments this spring, state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told lawmakers Wednesday. Photo by Imani Khayyam

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi high school students will take end-of-course exams and third graders will take mandated reading assessments this spring, state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told lawmakers Wednesday.

But, she said, the state should waive the requirement that students pass those tests because school routines have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I do believe this needs to be a year of grace for our schools,” Wright told members of the Senate Education Committee.

Under a Mississippi law that's been in place several years, students are required to pass a reading assessment at the end of third grade. Those who don't pass are supposed to be held back.

The Legislature could tweak the law to waive the passing requirement, or Gov. Tate Reeves could do it through an executive order.

After the first coronavirus cases were found in Mississippi in March, Reeves ordered all public schools to stop in-person instruction for the final weeks of the 2019-20 school year. For the current school year, each school district could choose whether to have classes in person, online or both. Most have had at least some in-person classes.

Mississippi gives annual letter grades, like a report card, to show how well schools and school districts are meeting accountability standards. Wright said Wednesday that she is recommending that schools and districts will keep the same letter grade for the current academic year that they for 2018-19, the last full academic year before the pandemic started.

Wright said school districts could consider expanding or creating after-school programs, Saturday school or summer school for students who need extra academic help because of the pandemic disruption.

She also asked lawmakers to consider putting more money into prekindergarten programs called early learning collaboratives. Mississippi puts little into those programs compared to other states. Wright did not request a specific amount of money but said in response to questions after the meeting that she would be happy with “as much you can give me.”

“When you've got a state next door that's dumping $150 million into early childhood — states around the United States are doing that,” Wright said. “Early childhood is a proven, given, workforce development issue.”

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