Educators from multiple districts wanted legislators to know how state testing affects their lives.

Lawmakers held a public hearing to discuss the toll standardized tests have on students, families and educators. Mississippi has switched state tests three times in three years, starting with the Mississippi Curriculum Test and moving to the PARCC test in the 2014-15 school year. The state switched once more in the 2015-16 school year and currently uses the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP).

Mississippi uses MAAP to test students on their proficiency in math, reading, history and science, depending on the grade. Student performance on these tests play a large role in school and district accountability grades each year. The state is required to administer end-of-course exams under a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“I’m not running from accountability and I don’t think that our teachers are either, but what I’m more interested in is an accountability that’s much more relevant to students and teachers and parents,” Tyler Hansford, superintendent of the Union School District said.

At the hearing, teachers and administrators said all this testing, from the district to state level, puts an intense amount of stress on teachers and children.

In an emotional speech, Jackson Public School teacher Nakiya Beaman told the crowded room that many of her students read on a fourth grade level. She teaches 10th grade English at Provine High School, but feels immense pressure to catch her students up so they perform adequately on standardized tests.

“I spent Friday in my classroom crying real tears. My (students’) scores are so low,” Beaman said. “I want people to understand that our accountability model changes every year…Our district spends so much time and so much money guessing what’s going to be on that state test.”

In previous years, Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest, filed several bills to do away with end of course assessments and replace them with the ACT exam, arguing that these tests keep teachers from teaching and put barriers in place for many students to graduate. Miles said he intends to bring the issue back up this legislative session.

“We understand that our students have to take tests to reach the federal accountability level, but we also know that it doesn’t have to be punitive on graduation requirements,” Miles said.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.