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High School Testing Requirements For Graduation Could Change in Mississippi

A senator in a black suit speaks at the podium, glasses in one hand
The Mississippi Senate invited the House to form a conference committee to work out differences on legislation to eliminate the statewide end-of-year testing program on April 9, 2024. The program, which fulfills a federal mandate, is currently a graduation requirement. Mississippi State Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, introduced the bill. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Mississippi’s 2025 graduating classes may have new graduation requirements if the Mississippi House and Senate reach an agreement on a recent proposal on testing.

Earlier this year, Sen. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, introduced Senate Bill 2689, which would discontinue the existing statewide end-of-year exams in the 11th and 12th grades and replace them with “nationally recognized college readiness and career readiness tests such as, but not limited to, the ACT and ACT WorkKeys assessments.” The legislation would take effect in the 2026-2027 school year.

Currently, to be eligible for graduation, students must pass statewide exams in Algebra I, Biology I, English II and U.S. History or make a certain cut score in the respective area of the ACT. The law would effectively remove those requirements. Students would still be required to pass courses in those subjects to graduate.

Under the proposed bill, Mississippi would seek approval from the U.S. Department of Education to administer the ACT or a similar test to fulfill the federal testing requirements covered by the current EOY tests. The federal government requires states to administer statewide exams in English language arts and math once a year in grades 3 through 8 and once during high school. The government also requires students to test in science each year in grades 3 through 5. Students are required to take another science assessment once in grades 6 through 9 and once in grades 10 through 12.

“The Mississippi Department of Education continues to monitor proposed legislation from the 2024 session,” Mississippi Department of Education Public Information Officer Shanderia Minor told the Mississippi Free Press in an emailed statement on April 5.

The ACT is a timed aptitude test and one of the most commonly used indicators of college readiness used by institutions across the country. The test is composed of four sections evaluating proficiency in English, mathematics, reading and scientific reasoning. Each section is scored individually, on a scale of 1 to 36, with the average of the sections constituting the overall composite score.

While S.B. 2689 would require all students to take the ACT or ACT WorkKeys assessment, most Mississippi students already take those exams. Mississippi is one of 13 states that mandate the ACT, giving the test to all juniors on a regular school day. Students may take the ACT additional times through Saturday assessments at ACT testing centers.

Earlier this year, State Board of Trustees Student Representative Charlie Frugé questioned whether students were receiving adequate preparation for the ACT. Mississippi’s ACT composite average for the graduating class of 2023 was 17.6 of 36 compared to the national ACT average of 19.5.

Associate State Superintendent Wendy Clemons told the Mississippi Free Press in October the state has no mandated curriculum for ACT prep, nor are students required to take a preparatory course.

“We do have a college and career-readiness class,” Clemons said on Oct. 26, 2023. “(A school) can incorporate a course ACT prep into that, but we don’t require a separate course.”

If the bill is passed, the current end-of-year tests would also be removed from the Mississippi Statewide Accountability System, which assigns A-F letter grades to schools based on their performance on a number of performance indicators. High schools can earn up to 1,000 total points on the rating scale. ACT performance currently counts for 47.5 points on the scale. The accountability system would need to be reworked with the exclusion of the statewide exams.

“Any immediate changes to testing would be determined based on review of final legislation,” Minor said.

On April 4, the House passed the bill with a reverse repealer, a legislative move lawmakers often use to prompt further consideration. On April 9, the Senate invited the House to go to conference where a committee of members from the two chambers can work out any differences on the bill.

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