A day after visiting students and educators in Holmes County, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tours a classroom at the Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

State superintendents of education, including Mississippi’s Carey Wright, received a letter last week with a clear message: expect to administer state tests this school year.

Despite the global pandemic and its effects on instruction, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos penned a letter to the heads of state education departments last week telling them not to expect waivers for federally required assessments.

In Mississippi, students’ performance on state assessments impacts districts’ annual accountability grades, which are measured on an A-F scale. State tests are used to measure proficiency and growth for students in 3rd through 8th grade and high school students taking end-of-the-year tests in Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History.

In March, as the novel coronavirus spread in Mississippi, schools were closed and state tests were canceled. School and district accountability scores were rolled over from the previous year.

DeVos opened her Sept. 3 letter by stating school closures in the spring disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable students, and that fact underlines the need for more data on the impact of lost learning time.

“Moving forward, meeting the needs of all students will require tremendous effort,” she wrote. “To be successful, we must use data to guide our decision-making.”

DeVos said that while assessments must be administered this year, the department is “open to discussions about what, if any, actions may be needed to adjust how the results of assessments are used in your state’s school accountability determinations.”

Jason Dean, chair of the State Board of Education, said based on his own beliefs and the opinions he’s heard from around the state, state testing will, and should, proceed this year — barring another shutdown or major event.

“We’ve got to understand the magnitude of the learning loss, if there is any,” resulting from school closures and other effects of COVID-19, Dean told Mississippi Today. “We need to understand where we are compared to two years ago (in the spring of 2019).”

However, said Dean, education officials are open to looking at how assessment scores will impact accountability ratings this year, and a team at the state education department is currently looking at potential ways to address concerns about accountability ratings.

Dean acknowledged many educators are concerned and said a decision regarding accountability ratings won’t be made until closer to the time state assessments are administered — usually in April and May.

The Mississippi Department of Education said in a statement it has no plans at this point to ask the U.S. Department of Education to waive the requirement to administer state tests.

A request for comment from the Mississippi Association for School Superintendents was not immediately returned Thursday.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.