By Rosemary G. Aultman, Chair, Mississippi State Board of Education
There are no exit exams required for graduation in Mississippi. Yet there seems to be confusion or simply mis-information that continues to persist around this topic. I’m hopeful this information will provide clarity around the issue of end-of-course assessments in high school.
The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) administers assessments in four subject areas upon completion of the courses. Subject areas are Algebra 1, Biology 1, English II and U.S. History. Tests for Mathematics, Science and English are required by State and Federal law. The U.S. History test is established by policy of the Mississippi State Board of Education (Board).
In 2013, state law required students to pass the end-of-course assessments in order to earn a diploma. However, that is no longer the case. In 2014, the Board adopted a policy that provides alternate routes to graduation. Therefore, a passing score on each assessment is NOT the SOLE requirement for graduation in Mississippi. However more than 80 percent of high school students in the state meet graduation requirements by passing the end-of-course exams. The remaining 20 percent meet the requirements through an alternate pathway.
Because we realize that all students have academic strengths and weaknesses, providing multiples options for showing mastery has proven beneficial for the students. These options include scoring a 17 or better on the ACT in core areas of the college entrance exam, scoring C or better on college courses taken while in high school, and certain scores on military entrance of career technical exams.
As a result of providing multiple pathways to earn a diploma, and contrary to some mis-information, graduation rates have risen. In fact, Mississippi’s graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 83 percent, just one point shy of the national rate of 84 percent. Since the policy change, drop-out rates have declined for the fourth consecutive year to 10.6 percent, down from 13.9 percent in 2014.
School districts across the state are working diligently to provide support for students who need additional help in order to receive a traditional diploma. Mississippi is being recognized nationally for the hard work taking place in classrooms across the state. Every indicator the Board and the MDE monitors is on the rise, from kindergarten readiness and literacy to student academic performance, and yes, graduation rates. We have set more rigorous learning standards which are comparable to many high performing states and we are reaping the benefits. And yes, progress is measured through challenging assessments at the end of course, but when students understand the expectations and are provided the support and resources, they will rise to meet those expectations. The Board and MDE will continue to set high goals but in doing so will also provide professional development to teachers and administrators to ensure the rigor in the classroom reflects the learning goals for the state.
If Mississippi’s educational system is to reach its full potential of producing young people who can meet the challenges of college or a highly skilled job, we must continue to offer students multiple paths for reaching their full potential. Our state’s future depends on it.