Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Errick L. Greene announced both testing gains and an investigation into test irregularities at some schools during a press conference on Thursday.
JPS experienced growth in proficiency levels across subjects and grade levels of the 2022/2023 Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, or MAAP, assessments. District data for the results received showed an 11% increase in the district’s science-proficiency scores and a 9% increase in math-proficiency scores. A later press release from Sherwin Johnson, executive director of public engagement, also reported proficiency gains of 6% for English language arts and 7% for history.
However, this testing cycle presented problems for the district. Caveon Test Security, whom the Mississippi Department of Education contracts to help ensure assessment results are valid and reliable, identified abnormalities or anomalies in the district’s results using forensic data.
MDE notified JPS on Aug. 14 of the testing irregularities Caveon discovered regarding the MAAP assessments of seven schools in its district and gave JPS 15 working days to conduct an internal investigation and present their findings.
“We quickly assembled a team of internal and external educators and developed a comprehensive plan to investigate the actions of our leaders, our educators, our scholars—all of those involved in our testing program according to the state MDE guidance,” Greene told the media.
While the investigation is on-going, the district has placed school leaders at each of the identified schools on administrative leave with pay. Greene stated that district officials will take the appropriate actions based on the findings of the investigation, including personnel actions against any individuals involved. The district will also report individuals found to have committed impropriety to the Mississippi Department of Education Office of Educator Misconduct.
“We believe in the work that we’re doing here in Jackson Public Schools and passionately believe in our scholars and our educators and their ability to achieve at really high levels and to do it with integrity,” Greene said. “This is a serious matter, and we are acting with expediency and intentionality.”
Greene did not name the schools or the administrators who have been placed on leave but noted that the affected population represents only 7% of the students assessed in the district. The Mississippi Department of Education released MAAP reports that show notations of “assessment results unavailable due to ongoing test security investigations” at Lester Elementary, McLeod Elementary and Peeples Middle School in multiple grade levels and subject areas. Dawson Elementary, Marshall Elementary, Wilkins Elementary, and Lanier High School are also cited for incidents in a specific grade-level and/or subject area.
All Mississippi school districts are required to have test security plans in place. The district superintendent, the district test coordinator and the chairman of the school board all sign the plan. Each school’s test security plan is a part of the district plan, which the school principal, school test coordinator and district test coordinator sign. Any individual involved in the testing process must be trained in test security and administration.
“We have very strong protocols around the testing site, who’s in the classroom, (and) what they’re able to say. We invite additional monitors from the community and from the Mississippi Department of Education,” Greene said. “We’ll go back and look again at those test security plans. That’s part of the investigation, in fact, to make sure that the plans themselves were followed, and if they were followed, then what additional actions or protocols might be needed to ensure that we have total security throughout and that our test data is reliable.”
Greene recognized the importance of all JPS employees in the district’s academic gains and that accurate assessment results are an important factor in its success.
“There’s a culture here in Jackson Public Schools contrary to what we’ve heard and what we’ve seen in these instances, but there is a culture here in Jackson Public Schools that we’re working for what we earn—that our scholars are important,” Greene said. “It’s important to know exactly what they know so that we can address those needs from a firm standpoint and from a foundation of truth.”