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MDE invalidates assessment test scores...

MDE invalidates assessment test scores for a dozen schools

By: Jeremy Pittari - September 7, 2023

Lester Elementary School (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Public School District)

The irregularities were discovered as part of MDE’s annual statistical analysis of test results. State Rep. Jansen Owen says falsifying test results is a disservice to Mississippi’s students.

This week, the Mississippi Department of Education issued a statement saying 934 state assessment scores in a dozen schools within Mississippi were invalidated. 

According to MDE, the assessment results in question for the spring 2023 term were invalidated in a portion of tests due to irregularities and/or security violations. This year, 578,515 tests were administered, meaning the percentage of tests that were invalidated represent about two-tenths of one percent of all tests conducted in the state. 

Flags that led to the results being invalidated at the 12 schools in question included an “extremely high level of similar responses and/or instances of wrong-to-wright answer changes.”

“The probability of the detected irregularities occurring under normal testing conditions is 1 in 1 quintillion, or 1 billion multiplied by 1 billion,” MDE states in the release.

The irregularities were discovered as part of MDE’s annual statistical analysis of test results, where testing irregularities can be revealed. When those irregularities are egregious, the scores are invalidated. 

State Representative Jansen Owen (R-HD 106), a member of the House Education Committee, said the announcement was concerning.

“We administer tests in our state to track student achievement and monitor the job our public schools are doing for our students. Falsifying test results is a disservice to Mississippi’s students. They deserve better from the schools charged with preparing them for their future,” Owen told Magnolia Tribune. “I commend MDE for their transparency about this investigation — and I expect them to hold accountable anyone responsible for these discrepancies.”

Owen’s colleague State Rep. Stacey Wilkes (R-HD 108) agreed. She said accountability and transparency are a necessity.

“Checks and balances are important in any arena to ensure fair and accurate assessment.  I am glad that MDE has a system in place to help prevent and identify irregularities in test results.   Falsifying or otherwise altering test results is unacceptable,” said Rep. Wilkes. “Our students work hard to prepare for these tests and if we are not going to have honest feedback and assessment, what is the point in having them?  Accountability and transparency are a necessity.  Kudos to MDE for being on top of this travesty.”

Superintendents in affected districts were notified of the irregularities on August 15th and were given 15 working days to submit a report to MDE after conducting their own investigation.

District leaders in the Jackson and Canton school districts identified 57 educators, administrators and staff who allegedly violated the security rules for the tests. In addition to disciplinary action taken against those individuals by the districts, those educators could face suspension or revocation of their educator’s license and potential criminal charges, MDE states. 

Investigations conducted by the districts in Greenville, Hollandale and Wilkinson did not identify school personnel as being involved in the test security violations. However, MDE is conducting its own investigation to determine if educator misconduct was involved. School districts under investigation by MDE will be required to reimburse the agency for the cost of the state-led investigation. 

 “The MDE takes seriously its obligation to ensure the validity of the statewide assessment and accountability systems,” said Dr. Ray Morgigno, interim State Superintendent of Education, in the release. “We recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of schools properly administer state assessments. However, interference in state testing corrupts the integrity of the assessments and deprives students and families of receiving a true and accurate measure of student learning and achievement.”

Parents and guardians of the students whose scores were invalidated will be informed via letter from MDE. Those individuals are asked to contact their child’s school district in order to request a factual indication of that student’s performance. 

“Falsified test results deprive students, families and other teachers of knowing whether students need extra help and support,” MDE states. 

Any student affected by this incident who was promoted from the third grade will be provided with additional support and intervention to ensure they are proficient in reading. High school students whose scores were invalidated will have to retake the affected exams since they are a requirement for graduation. Additionally, any school with invalidated scores in 10 percent or more of their assessment will not receive a letter grade in the Mississippi Statewide Accountability System for the 2022-2023 school year and will face an accreditation status downgrade or withdrawal. 

School districts and schools associated with the investigation included:

  • Nichols Middle School in the Canton Public School District (grades 6 and 7 English Language Arts and math)
  • Boyd Elementary in the Greenville School District (grade 5 ELA and math)
  • Simmons Junior and High Schools in the Hollandale School District (grade 8 ELA and English II)
  • Wilkinson County High School in the Wilkinson County School District (English II, Algebra I and U.S. History)
  • Seven schools in the Jackson Public Schools District including Dawson Elementary (grade 3 ELA and math), Lester Elementary (grades 3, 4 and 5 ELA and math and grade 5 science), Marshall Elementary (grade 3 ELA), McLeod Elementary (grade 3, 4 and 5 ELA and math), Peeples Middle School (grades 6, 7 and 8 math and ELA and grade 8 science), Wilkins Elementary (grade 4 math) and Lanier High School (English II). 

Accreditation scores for schools and districts are expected to be released on September 28th. 

MDE states that assessment grades for Nichols Middle School, Boyd Elementary, Simmons High School, Dawson Elementary, Lester Elementary, McLeod Elementary, Peeples Middle and Wilkinson County High School will be “noted as test data invalidated.” 

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics.