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State Board of Education accepting public comments on planned change to school accountability system

The A-F scale used to grade Mississippi schools and districts may take the Career and Technical Education that schools offer into more consideration.

Public comments on the proposed change will be accepted from March 2 to March 26, said Jean Cook, MDE’s Director of Communications. Those public comments will be submitted to the State Board of Education in April, along with a request for final approval of the policy change. The rule would become effective 30 days after it is filed with the Secretary of State.

The accountability system currently measures how students perform in reading and math, learning gains, graduation rate, performance in science and history, advanced coursework and college and career readiness, according to the Mississippi Department of Education website. The accountability system evaluates schools and school districts, not individual teachers or students.

Districts can benefit financially from a high grade or by demonstrating improvements in the accountability system, and those that receive low grades are given additional support from the state.

The state currently uses ACT scores to measure how well schools are preparing students for college and careers. However, the State Board of Education accepted a proposal last week to add an additional option for measuring student career readiness.

The ACT WorkKeys assessment measures “foundational skills required for success in the workplace, and help measure the workplace skills that can affect job performance,” according to act.org. The test has four levels of scoring: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Students who scored silver and completed an industry certification or career pathway program would be considered career ready. Students who scored gold or platinum would also be considered career ready.

“I think any time there’s time and money and resources that are being expended by districts, there’s always interest in including some type of recognition for that in the accountability measures,” said Alan Burrow, executive director of school and district performance.

Industry certification is already recognized in the accountability section that looks at student acceleration, which also takes students in advanced placement classes and working on dual credit courses into consideration, said Burrow.

Some school districts across the state already use the WorkKeys assessment because industries in those areas value it for hiring, but it is not used equally statewide, said Burrow.

All three local school districts offer career and technical education programs.

Since the rule has not been finalized, the Pearl River County School District’s CTE program administrators do not know exactly how it will affect their program, said CTE Director Kelli Herrin, but they do know it will have an impact.

“A lot of businesses use the WorkKeys to gauge where a person is and if they fit in their business,” said CTE Councilor Heather Burleson.

Students in the CTE program will take the ACT WorkKeys test for the first time next week, said Burleson. This should help district administrators understand how well prepared their students are for the test, how the test works and how long it might take students to take it.

Poplarville High School’s CTE Counselor Shelly Dement said Career and Technical Education is a great way to give students an opportunity for hands-on learning. Between 230 and 240 students at Poplarville High School enroll in the CTE programs every year.

“In the past it was kind of for students who weren’t planning on going to college, and that’s still an option, but now it covers a variety of programs like our teacher program and health sciences. It gives them an opportunity to figure out if that’s something they really want to do,” said Dement.

Poplarville offers six CTE programs. Students in the CTE classes might spend their time welding, hatching chickens, learning CPR, putting marketing skills into practice by running a small snack stand, shadowing teachers or creating short films.

Students at Poplarville High School don’t currently take the WorkKeys assessment, but CTE Director Keri Smith thinks adding it to school accountability measures could benefit students.

“I think it would benefit our students because it would give them some insight on industry needs and qualifications,” she said.

The rule change would not be implemented until accountability results are calculated for the 2021 to 2022 school year.