With the 2020-21 school year underway, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has received numerous questions from educators and stakeholders about plans for statewide assessments and accountability. The most common questions are:
- Will statewide assessments be required this year?
- How will Mississippi Statewide Accountability System results be calculated and reported?
- How will schools calculate growth this spring?
- How should goals be set for students without prior-year assessment data?
These types of questions are being raised throughout the country, as the pandemic continues to challenge our education system. Throughout this public health crisis, the MDE has been working closely with state and federal policymakers and leaders and national experts to respond to the crisis and develop plans to move education forward as a state and nation.
Here is where we stand today:
Statewide assessments will be administered in the 2020-21 school year. Our statewide assessment system is fully aligned to our academic standards and is designed to measure how well students are learning and progressing from year to year. As you know, assessment results provide students, parents, teachers and administrators critical information about what students have achieved, and what learning gaps still exist. Teachers and administrators rely on assessment data to make instructional decisions and to provide students with support and interventions.
Thanks to your hard work and the work of your teachers and school leaders, student achievement in Mississippi has been growing at the fastest rate in the U.S. In every area of focus for improved public education — early childhood education, reading, advanced courses, and career and technical education — you have been challenging students to reach higher, and they have surpassed our goals.
Student gains have been so significant, the latest Quality Counts report named Mississippi No. 2 among all states and jurisdictions for the greatest academic improvement. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) recently highlighted Mississippi as a leader in the South and the nation for our achievements in education from early childhood through college. These achievements support our students’ significant, annual gains on statewide assessments and bolster Mississippi’s historic NAEP results.
Last year’s abrupt school closure caused us to lose one year’s worth of valuable assessment data. This school year, statewide assessments take on an even greater importance because they will provide a current measure of student progress while helping us understand how COVID-19 disruptions affected student learning. This information will help direct policy decisions moving forward.
The Mississippi Statewide Accountability System also remains important this year. Mississippi’s cohesive assessment and accountability system provides transparency about student, school and district progress. Just as families deserve to know how their children are performing in school, education stakeholders deserve quality data about how well schools across the state are serving all student population groups.
Given the complications of calculating 2020-21 accountability results without 2019-20 assessment data, we expect the data analysis needed to produce 2020-21 accountability results will need to be adjusted. Currently, the MDE is considering all options, including decoupling assessment from accountability in some form for the 2020-21 school year. We are continuing to work with policymakers and national experts to do all that is feasible to adjust these programs, while continuing to comply with state and federal laws. We will update you as decisions are made.
In the meantime, I urge you and your instructional staff to maintain your focus on providing students with the highest-quality instruction and support possible. It is important to teach grade-level standards, rather than start with last year’s standards, to accelerate students’ learning.
This school year will be unlike any other we have experienced in our careers as educators. I deeply appreciate the leadership you have been providing in your districts and all the work you continue to do to help your students stay safe and succeed. If you have any questions, please contact Alan Burrow, Executive Director of District and School Performance, or Cody Shumaker, Director of Accountability Services. They are continuing to offer technical and practical assistance to schools and districts regarding accountability. For training sessions and resource offerings, please visit www.mdek12.org/OA/ODSP.