Education

Are Coast kids spending too much time taking standardized tests?

The Ocean Springs School District has received a grant to hire up to 40 teacher residents in a state program to help address a shortage of teachers. Here, students at Ocean Springs Elementary School work on reading assignment on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. The Ocean Springs School District has been one of the top-scoring districts in the state and the Coast.
The Ocean Springs School District has received a grant to hire up to 40 teacher residents in a state program to help address a shortage of teachers. Here, students at Ocean Springs Elementary School work on reading assignment on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. The Ocean Springs School District has been one of the top-scoring districts in the state and the Coast. Sun Herald file

Are Mississippi public school students spending too much time taking standardized tests? Not exactly, according to a new report.

The problem, the report claims, is with the amount of prep time.

Mississippi First, an education advocacy group, recently released findings from a study on state testing. Between 2014-15, it found public school students spend about eight hours, or less than 1 percent of the 180-day school year, taking state tests.

But those eight hours do not include the time preparing for and discussing the tests.

For the report, Mississippi First said it studied four types of school districts by population, income level and access to technology.

The districts were a small, lower-poverty district with 1:1 technology; a small, high-poverty district without 1:1 technology; a mid-sized, (about 5,000 students) high-poverty district with partial 1:1 technology; and a mid-sized,lower-poverty district without 1:1 technology.

The report found students in lower-performing districts spent more time preparing for tests and taking standardized tests than students in higher-performing districts.

In this January, 2015, video, Jeff Davis Elementary School third-grade teachers talk about what was then the new state reading proficiency requirement for third-grade students to advance in Mississippi

Coast schools

One of the standardized tests used in the state is Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, which measures performance in English Language Arts and mathematics in grades 3-8, as well as in English II and Algebra I in high school.

For the 2016-17 school year, the Ocean Springs School District had the highest percentage of students, 84.71 percent, who scored passing grades on the Coast. Moss Point School District had the lowest.

The state also has an accountability system, which grades districts A-F.

The Pass Christian School District received a "B" rating in the fall of 2017, dropping from an "A" by a few points. Superintendent Carla Evers said her district tests students three times a year.

"We assess our K-8 students three times per year (pre-mid-post) via a growth monitoring system," she said. "This provides our teachers and administrators with actionable data that can be used to support each student’s instructional needs. Whereas practice has its place, we can not practice our way to high performance. High performance happens when students are engaged in a rigorous and relevant learning process."



The suggestions

In the report, Mississippi First suggests schools cut back on the amount of prep time for testing. Other suggestions include allowing teachers to create their own standardized tests and create a task force to examine instructional time in the districts.

Evers said she sees no need for testing reform, at least in her district.

"The assessments have undergone a recent overhaul with the move from PARCC to MAAP," she said. "We are now in a period of stabilization, which is important to our ability to use the data as an achievement indicator."

She also said standardized testing is a necessary tool for measuring success in modern education.



"We recognize the importance of assessing," she said. "There are not many professions that exist where passing a test is not a threshold for entry into said profession. Further, until society de-emphasizes standardized testing in schools, i.e., it is not headline news, I fear not much will change. Teachers would love to be able to teach, and let the test happen without fear of heavy scrutiny."

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