GAUTIER, Miss. (WLOX) - The Mississippi Department of Education is recommending schools waive the passing requirements for third grade reading and high school end of course assessments because of COVID-19.
The state Board of Education already voted last week to halt state standardized tests and to have schools and districts keep their current A-to-F ratings for another year. Mississippi officials said Thursday that the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it will formally approve Mississippi’s waiver later, as board members suspended more than a dozen laws and rules.
According to the Associated Press, high school students will earn graduation credits for incomplete courses, and seniors will be allowed to graduate this year as long as they meet other district and state requirements. Districts can change graduation requirements, as long as students earn at least 24 core course credits.
That means high school students will be allowed to graduate without passing end-of-course tests in algebra, biology, English II and U.S history or achieving alternate test scores, as long as they pass the underlying course. That’s true even if students aren’t seniors but are taking the courses this year.
Thursday, the board also agreed that third graders won’t have to pass a standardized test of reading skills and can advance to fourth grade if they meet other normal requirements. Kindergarten students also won’t be administered a dyslexia screener this spring.
“I think this year is a year of grace,” said State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright. “I understand that COVID-19 has disrupted teaching and learning this school year, and we want to make sure we support teachers, administrators and students as much as possible.”
Schools won’t have to teach for at least 180 days or 330 minutes a day and students won’t be cited for truancy.
Statewide assessments will still take place as scheduled this year, “to measure statewide student progress, assess the impact of COVID-19 … on learning and meet U.S. Department of Education requirements.”
“Statewide assessments provide critical data to the department to identify any learning gaps and what resources the state needs to accelerate learning opportunities for students and professional development for teachers,” Wright said.
Students in public schools must take and pass several end-of-the-year assessments. Third-graders must a reading exam, while high-schoolers must take subject-area exams in U.S. History, biology, algebra and English II.
The Mississippi Department of Education is also recommending that districts and schools keep their letter grade from the 2018-19 school year and is working with technical advisors on how to meet federal accountability measures.
This change comes after MDE moved earlier this year to ease requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the challenges students and teachers are facing this school year because of the pandemic, some teachers believe it’s important to work together in order to help students learn inside and outside of the classroom.
“Even with the barriers in place right now with some schools not allowing visitors in the building and things like that, we still keep that line of communication open,” said Martin Bluff Elementary teacher Emilee Williams in Gautier. “We make sure parents know what their student’s need and what we are providing for them at school in hopes that we can get them prepared as possible for the next grade level.”
Pascagoula Gautier School District Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said he believes teachers will play an even greater role in the academic growth of students.
“Our teachers make that determination anyway every year, as it relates to our students advancing based on their developmental level,” said Rodolfich. “They can’t advance to the fourth grade unless they are ready, but this gives more power to the teacher to be able to make that decision.”
It’s a challenge that Williams believes every teacher is more than capable of handling.
“Teachers know these students,” said Williams. “We really know what’s in the best interest for these students and whether they’re academically ready to be promoted or not.”
Wright said MDE will continue to help districts plan afterschool, enrichment and summer learning opportunities. Literacy-Based Promotion Act funds could fund summer reading camps, afterschool programs and reading enrichment programs. These funds are available because of reduced face-to-face training and travel costs due to COVID-19. Districts are expected to use federal funds to support literacy and learning efforts as well.