JACKSON — The movement to allow Mississippi public high school students to graduate without passing four subject area tests continues to gain steam in the Legislature.
The House Thursday voted 119-0 to pass House Bill 665, which would remove the tests in algebra I, biology, English II and U.S. history as a barrier beginning this spring.
Students would still have to take the test, but wouldn’t have to pass them. Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, said he hoped the state Department of Education would make the tests part of the grades for courses, as some other states have done. He said students who have passed all the required courses should be allowed to graduate
“There is value to the subject-area tests, but some folks think it’s a little too high-stakes right now,” he said.
If successful, it would be the first time since the 1980s that Mississippi students don’t have to pass an exit exam to graduate. The idea was to make sure students were learning the basics no matter where they attend school.
Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, who was one of two House members to abstain from the vote, questioned the bill, saying it would loosen graduation standards.
“In the real world, in college, they don’t have that compassionate Legislature that’s trying to make those standardized tests easier,” Smith said.
Many local superintendents have been pushing to end the tests, saying a new requirement to give the ACT college exam to all juniors is a better option to assess readiness. However, that test doesn’t cover history and only covers science reasoning, not knowledge of biology. In January, state Superintendent Carey Wright voiced support for the tests, saying they cover different things and assure parents of what their children have learned.
“I think the parents deserve the right to know what their children know at the end their education,” she said then.
Wright declined further comment through a spokeswoman Thursday, saying she wanted to consult with members of the Board of Education.
House Bill 385, passed by the House earlier, would eliminate the history and biology tests. Both bills must pass by the Senate before becoming law.
Mississippi public high school students have been required to pass the tests since 2003. They replaced the Functional Literacy Exam, which had been given since the 1980s.
In 2012, 90 percent of Mississippi’s 28,400 seniors passed all four tests on their first try. By the state’s count, 2,807 seniors lacked a passing score on one or more tests.
Not all of those actually failed. Some are transfers who aren’t required to pass tests for classes they completed elsewhere. Others are special education students who aren’t required to pass the tests. Some students who didn’t pass the tests wouldn’t have graduated anyway because they didn’t complete all required classes.
Students who fail a test have had optional routes to graduation since 2013, including reaching certain scores on the ACT; Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams; the test the U.S. military gives to recruits; and two routes aimed at students taking career or technical courses.
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