Jackson, MS—Today, Mississippi First released Understanding District and State Testing in Mississippi. This report uses field research on testing practices in four diverse Mississippi school districts to determine how many tests Mississippi students take and how much time they spend taking those tests. It also describes common school district testing practices, such as how testing is conducted and how tests are used in the districts. The report is the first of its kind in Mississippi.

Mississippi First wrote this report to bring much-needed research and analysis to a debate mostly characterized by impassioned anecdotes. The report offers several eye-opening general and comparative findings. Report highlights include the following:

  1. In 2014-2015, students spent an average of 7 hours, 53 minutes—less than 1% of a 180-day school year—taking state tests.
  2. Students took more district tests than state tests in every district we studied, but they sometimes spent less time on district testing than on state testing.
  3. Test completion hours do not reflect all the time schools devote to standardized testing.
  4. Low-performing districts in our sample administered more tests and spent more time testing than high-performing districts.
  5. Low-performing districts prioritized test prep over content instruction for at least 25% of their instructional year.

“As all educators know, testing is an important part of the learning process,” says Rachel Canter, Executive Director of Mississippi First. “Students in our study had widely varying experiences with testing depending on which district they attended. All fifth graders took five state tests in 2014-2015, but a fifth grader in one district took an additional six district standardized tests, whereas a fifth grader in another district took an additional 22 district standardized tests.”

Following the findings, the report provides recommendations and action steps for school districts, the Mississippi Department of Education, and the legislature about what they can do to improve standardized testing in Mississippi.

Angela Bass, co-author of the report and Deputy Director of Policy for Mississippi First, stated, “Districts actually have a lot of power to improve testing on their own by making sure that teachers are supported in using the data generated from every test and by eliminating district tests that are duplicative or add no real value. State testing can also be improved by making the results more useful to teachers and by being mindful of the length of state exams.”

Rachel Canter added, “Testing is one means of determining whether students are learning, but it is not an end in itself. Schools that ‘over-test’ are drowning in data with no real plan for how to put that data to work for students. Data-driven schools minimize instructional time loss from testing and maximize the benefits by being very intentional about their testing and data use practices. For students and teachers to get the data-driven schools they deserve, policymakers need to understand the complexity of the issue and how to best support good practice.”

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