Educators say ending history test would mean less stress

Updated: Aug. 29, 2019 at 10:40 PM CDT
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JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - The fate of the U.S. history exit exam will be decided by the Mississippi Department of Education next month, but first, the board will allow the court of public opinion to have a say.

Teachers have already had their say, which is what sparked the push to make this test a thing of the state’s past. The Jones County School District Superintendent of Education, Tommy Parker, and U.S. history teacher Jessica Herrington said they want to eliminate the exam.

Herrington said she loves to learn about the past and she’s been sharing that appreciation with her students at South Jones High School for more than a decade.

“I’m passionate about history, and I try to bring creativity to my lessons,” Herrington said.

But, she said opportunities to inspire her students are leaving the classroom due to what she described as over testing, specifically testing of the U.S. History End-of-Course-Exam.

“I was always driven by the test," Herrington said. “You have a looming date and it’s coming in April or the first of May. You have to have the kids prepared to take that to graduate.”

Herrington said she thinks this made the classroom and most of the school year focused on testing. Now, there could be some relief if the state board of education votes to end the U.S. History End-of-Course-Exam.

Parker said this is a result of teachers speaking out.

“Just their way of saying that they felt like there’s too much testing of our students, too much standardize testing of our students,” Parker said.

The Mississippi Department of Education sent out a poll to more than 3,000 teachers, which echo the same sentiment. Of the thousands of teachers asked, 77% of U.S. history teachers, history teachers and other teachers voted no on continuing the U.S. History End-of-Course Exam, while only 23% voted to keep it.

Herrington said she voted to get rid of the state history test.

“I think our children or our students are over tested," Herrington said. “I think if we can eliminate some of that stress, I think it’s to their benefit. We are to do what is best for the students. I think it would bring a lot of stress off of teachers and the administration.”

Not only is the elimination of the U.S. history test backed by a great number of teachers, but it’s potential removal is supported by law. In Mississippi, the U.S. history test is solely required by state board policy, meaning no approval from the federal government or legislature is needed to do away with it, according to Parker.

Until the test’s omission, Parker said students also have to pass Algebra l, English ll and Biology to get their diploma. He said that’s not the case in every state.

“There are over half the states in the nation that don’t tie those standardized tests to graduation,” Parker said.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, only 11 states have graduation tests, down from a high of 27. Fair Test claims in part, “Exit exams have harmed youth by denying diplomas to tens of thousands of U.S. students each year, regardless of whether they have stayed in school, completed all other high school graduation requirements and demonstrated competency in other ways.”

It also cited a review by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, that concluded, “High school graduation tests have done nothing to lift student achievement but have raised the dropout rate.”

Not all teachers and districts agree that ending the U.S. history exit exam is the way to go. Educators, who wanted to remain anonymous, said they take this stance.

“...Rather than removing tests, the state should look at all of the unnecessary requirements surrounding state testing security," one teacher said. "As professionals, our teachers should be able to oversee online testing without all the added security stress. This stress trickles down to our students.”

If the vote next month is to end the U.S. history test, both Parker and Herrington said parents shouldn’t worry. They assure parents that there will still be high standards for history curriculum.

They said students will still need to take and pass the U.S. history course, and without the test there will be freedom in the classroom for teachers and less stress for students.

“We’re not going to not teach history," Herrington said. “It’s just we’re not gonna be driven by a test.”

If the state board of education makes the final decision to get rid of the U.S. History End-of-Course exam, it would take effect in the 2020-21 school year. Parker emphasized supporting doing away with the exam has nothing to do with his district’s students not passing or scoring high on the test.

“In fact, the district’s scores are proficient or advanced, and not having the exam could lower the district’s school accountability rating,” Parker said.

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