Dr. Wright and Rep. Miles debate exit exams in Mississippi

An amendment has passed that would put an end to exit tests in high schools in Mississippi. However, state superintendent Dr. Carey Wright says the state hasn’t had exit exams since 2014.

“When I first got here in November of ’13, we did have exit exams and I heard from parents and I heard from superintendents and I heard from lawmakers that it was just driving everybody crazy because there were kids that were just shy by one point,” said Dr. Wright. “So, having been in education all my life, I also believe that children should not be judged based on one particular exam. There is a variety of ways that you can have kids show that they have mastery of the material. So we worked with the board and the legislature. I don’t know when they put this into play, but it says that they shall not be required to pass.”

Instead of taking an exit exam, Dr. Wright said there are multiple ways to graduate.

  1. Obtain a score of 17 or higher on the reading subject subscore of the ACT.
  2. Earn a C or higher in an entry-level credit-bearing dual enrollment / dual credit/college credit course with a HIS prefix.
  3. Obtain an ASVAB AFQT score of 36 plus one of the following:
  • Earn a CPAS (Career Planning and Assessment System) score that meets the attainment level assigned by Federal Perkins requirements.
  • Earn an approved Industry Certification as specified in the Career Pathway’s Assessment Blueprint and in Appendix A-5 in the current edition of the Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards.
  1. Obtain the Silver Level on the ACT Work Keys plus one of the following:
  • Earn a CPAS (Career Planning and Assessment System) score that meets the attainment level assigned by Federal Perkins requirements.
  • Earn an approved Industry Certification as specified in the Career Pathway’s Assessment Blueprint and in Appendix A-5 in the current edition of the Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards.

“Now we have a variety of options that children can use because children have different strengths and so if you get a 17 on the ACT in any of the subject areas that can substitute,” Wright said. 

However, Representative Tom Miles author of the amendment said that students are still unable to graduate because of exit exams and that last year alone there were over 600 students in Mississippi that did not graduate because they did not meet the requirements or some of the alternate plans that the state offers. Miles shared several personal stories of students who have had a difficult time taking the exit exams.

“I had one friend from north Mississippi that had a child that graduated with honors, but because they couldn’t pass one of these mandated tests that we have, they had to transfer out of the public school into the private school so that they could graduate,” said Miles. “An honor student! That’s pretty sad and those stories are all over the state.”

Under the amendment to the education appropriations bill, Miles said that students would now be able to graduate even if they do not pass the exit exams. He said that there is no federal law requiring that students pass the exit exam; it is a specification that is put upon the students by the state of Mississippi.

“When you pull up the information on the ESSA stuff, you could use the SAT or the ACT in your program if that was submitted, now Mississippi, we decided not to do that,” Miles said. “We decided that we are at the bottom of education and instead of maybe going with some other stuff that has already been proven, we have decided that we want to re-invent the wheel.”

When it comes to high school tests, states now have the option of using “nationally recognized tests,” such as the ACT or SAT, instead of Mississippi’s state-created exams. While each state has to submit their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the department of education now allows states the option of picking off-the-shelf assessments like the ACT and SAT, which can save time and money over creating their own. In Mississippi, students are required to pass the MAP, or Mississippi Assessment Program end-of-course tests or substitute their ACT scores, dual-enrollment courses, or other tests.

Miles added that there were several bills introduced this session to have the ACT take over as being an end of course assessment. However, Miles said that replacing the exit exam with the ACT in Mississippi became complicated because the test does not align with the state’s academic standards and that the state superintendent needs to re-evaluate the ESSA plan and make the necessary changes to include the ACT.

“You can still amend that plan,” Miles said. “Last month there were 11 state ESSA plans that were approved… We are putting our kids at a disadvantage when we are not preparing them to take the ACT because that’s the only thing that will get them a scholarship to get into school.” 

Miles added that there is no reason to keep the standards from lining up with the ACT; he said it may take some extra paperwork now, however it would be worth it for the students.

“The question that we keep asking is, why don’t our standards line up with the ACT?” Miles said. “No one has ever asked a student what they made on their biology one test, or their algebra one test, or their English two test, or the U.S. History test or any of these end of course or exit exams, however, you want to word it this week, but they ask what they have made on their ACT. Why do our standards not align to that, I don’t know. There are 37 states in the United States that are not requiring or putting these mandates on their students for an exit exam.”

Dr. Wright maintained her argument saying that while students have options, there are currently no exit exams in Mississippi and the amendment is unnecessary.

“You’ve got a variety of ways that children can use their strengths in order to show that they have demonstrated the mastery over courses, but we do not have exit exams,” Wright said. “You don’t have to pass a test in order to graduate. You have to pass the course because you’ve got to earn the credit, but you don’t have to pass the test.”

Miles said that regardless of what the test is called if a student cannot receive their diploma without getting a certain grade on a test, it is an exit exam.

“When a child misses graduation after they have been with their peers for 12 or 13 years and they have actually passed all of the class work, but they can’t pass the standardized test and we are not allowing them to walk across the stage,” Miles said. “The moment is gone you can’t bring that back. There is no federal requirement that says we have got to hold their high school diploma hostage.”