The Mississippi Department of Education has voided some state test results at 12 schools across the state due to concerns that staff helped students cheat on the exams. 

The Mississippi Academic Assessment Program test measures student performance in English, math, science, and U.S. history. Results for the 2022-23 school year were released last month and showed the state average in most subjects increasing one or two percentage points since 2019.

In total, however, the state threw out 934 tests, an extremely small portion of the nearly 580,000 tests administered in the spring. Tests are identified for possible fraud if they have an extremely high level of similar responses or numerous instances of wrong-to-right answer changes.

The following schools had some portion of their test results voided: 

  • Nichols Middle School – Canton Public School District*
  • Boyd Elementary School – Greenville Public School District*
  • Simmons Junior High School – Hollandale School District
  • Simmons High School – Hollandale School District*
  • Wilkinson County High School – Wilkinson County School District*
  • Dawson Elementary School – Jackson Public Schools*
  • Lester Elementary School – Jackson Public Schools* 
  • Marshall Elementary School – Jackson Public Schools
  • McLeod Elementary School – Jackson Public Schools*
  • Peeples Middle School – Jackson Public Schools*
  • Wilkins Elementary School – Jackson Public Schools
  • Lanier High School – Jackson Public Schools

The number of tests voided at each school varies significantly, ranging from just a few to over 90% of the tests in that subject. Schools with more than 10% of their results voided (noted with an asterisk above) will not receive a letter grade this fall. 

The state education department is sending letters to the parents of students whose test results were voided and encouraging them to contact their district for additional support. Any high school students whose test results were thrown out will have to retake those exams, as passage is required to graduate. 

Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Errick Greene emphasized in his remarks to the local school board on Tuesday that this is not a district-wide issue, but shared his concern and frustration.

“In this district we will achieve at high levels, but we say that and we believe that while also believing that  … our scholars have the capacity to achieve at high levels and that we don’t need to cheat or blur the lines in order to get ahead,” he said. “And frankly, I really wish we could talk about our other test data which is not implicated in this as proof, as absolute proof that so many of our scholars and educators are winning.”

Here’s what MDE has shared about the investigation into these tests:

  • MDE notified school districts on Aug. 15 about irregularities in their districts and gave them 15 days to independently investigate.
  • District leaders in Canton and Jackson found evidence of administrators and teachers helping students cheat and took disciplinary action. MDE may pursue additional disciplinary actions, including suspension or revocation of teaching licenses.
  • State law also establishes misdemeanor and felony charges associated with helping students cheat on exams or knowingly submitting/certifying false results to MDE. Local district attorneys may prosecute these cases or pass them off to the state attorney general’s office.
  • District leaders in Greenville, Hollandale and Wilkinson did not identify any individuals who helped students cheat. MDE is now conducting its own investigation in these districts given the evidence of fraudulent tests.

The Jackson Public Schools district provided additional information about their investigation at the board meeting on Tuesday:

  • Educators were found to have violated two sections of the test security rules, which can include viewing test questions early, making copies of test questions, giving hints while the test was being administered, changing answers, or allowing students to change their responses outside of testing time. 
  • Of the 43 individuals disciplined, 17 were found to have played a major role and were fired, three received ten-day suspensions for playing a role, and 24 received letters of reprimand for concern about their involvement. 
  • Because of the firings, the district is having to consolidate some classrooms or schools. Specifically, Isable and Lester Elementaries will merge some classrooms, which were already sharing some building space. The district is looking to reassign teachers to McCloud Elementary or collapse a few classrooms. Most significantly, Peeples and Whitten Middle Schools will be consolidated into the Peeples campus, since Peeples lost the most staff and Whitten is currently under construction. 
  • Moving forward, teachers will not be allowed to administer state test exams to their own students in any subject. Greene shared that this was already the case for high school students, but will be implemented for elementary and middle schools next spring. 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.