The Mississippi State Board of Education is scheduled to meet later this week to consider State Superintendent Carey Wright’s recommendation that state and federal assessment and accountability requirements be suspended for the 2019-20 school year in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those tests include:

  • Pre-K and Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (post-test)
  • Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) and MAAP-Alternate English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science – Grades 3-8 and High School
  • U.S. History
  • ACT for 11th graders
  • English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT)

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Y’all Politics spoke with Dr. Jason Dean, chairman of the State Board of Education, on what this means for Mississippi’s schools.

“The most critical thing here is we want to take the stress of test prep off of our local superintendents so they can get down to the business at hand, which is taking care of their people, taking care of their students and keeping their health and safety the number one priority right now,” Dean said.

The testing window for the state opened this week, with preparations already having been made to complete the requirements.  However, a stop-work order has been issued to the assessment vendors in anticipation of the State Board of Education’s agreement with Dr. Wright, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.

Not moving forward with the testing could mean significant savings for taxpayers during this fiscal year, something legislative leaders should applaud given the increased likelihood of an economic downturn.

“I don’t know numbers right now, but I do know for a fact that the testing vendors have been notified to stop work,” Dean said.  “As you can imagine with the window of testing opening yesterday, there’s been a lot of preparatory work up to this point that I think it is fair for them to be compensated for but the actual tests have not been promulgated, administered, scored and disseminated. That’s the bulk of it. The majority of the work hasn’t even started.”

The Department of Education will pay costs incurred to set up the testing, but will not be required to pay costs associated with the actual testing, scoring and reporting in 2019-20.

“I think we’ll have a majority of our funds saved this year,” Dean said.  “This is clearly uncharted territory.”

While the State Board of Education is charged by law to administer the annual testing, they do not have the authority to waive the testing requirement.  That ability would fall to Gov. Tate Reeves.

Gov. Reeves would need to approve the cancellation of these tests based on the Board’s recommendation. His waiver of the code sections that require these tests can be pursued under the Governor’s emergency declaration.

Health officials continue to monitor the situation in Mississippi as it relates to COVID-19.  Schools statewide are closed this week and could remain closed for an additional 3-4 weeks as the situation continues to develop.  There has been no word on that as of yet by either the Governor or the Mississippi Department of Education, both whom are taking their cues from the Mississippi Department of Health.

Local school officials are considering options of how best to continue educational work with students at home for this prolonged period.  Some districts are polling their population to ascertain the internet capabilities at their homes as they consider online learning while others are scheduling times for parents to pick up work packets for students.

Many schools are working to provide breakfast and lunch for those students in need of those resources.  The Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition announced Tuesday that it has secured two waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist school districts in establishing meal programs at this time. These waivers allow all schools to serve meals to students during an unanticipated school closure. 

Schools may serve non-congregate meals, such as grab-and-go meals, during the Coronavirus emergency. The Office of Child Nutrition has implemented an expedited approval process to allow schools to begin serving meals as quickly as possible. Information on the program and a list of schools serving meals may be found at www.mdek12.org/OCN.