Trezhar Wynn, 8, is helped by assistant teacher Karen Cotton. Wynn and other 3rd graders participate in math class via Zoom at the Mississippi Children’s Museum. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi State Board of Education waived passing score requirements for high school end-of-course assessments and the third grade literacy test this school year.

The board also voted to allow schools and districts to suspend the assignment of letter grades, which measure school and district performance, for the 2020-21 year.

Although passing requirements are waived, state testing will still be administered. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, and other education officials have said it is important to have that data to determine the impact of the pandemic on student learning. It is also mandated by the U.S. Department of Education.

Based on a 2013 law called the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, third graders in Mississippi public schools must pass a reading test to continue to fourth grade. This year, third grade students who do not pass the test will still be promoted and receive additional support in the fourth grade, according to the board.

High schoolers take tests in Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History, and will not be prevented from graduating if they don’t pass these assessments this year.

Gov. Tate Reeves in April issued an executive order granting the State Board of Education the ability to suspend or amend state laws and policies if necessary to cope with the effects of the coronavirus.

Earlier this month Wright told lawmakers the Mississippi Department of Education would be making these recommendations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she felt it was important for this to be a “year of grace” and that holding children accountable in this way would be unfair. On Thursday, the board approved her recommendations.

Board Chair Jason Dean emphasized that assessment and accountability will return to normal in the 2021-22 school year, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

The board also approved adjustments and waivers of parts of the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, including identifying struggling schools and the timelines for improvement in those schools.

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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.