State Chief Seeks To Delay Use of Competency Test
Richard A. Boyd, Mississippi's superintendent of education, is expected to recommend to the state Board of Education at its meeting this week that the use of a competency test to determine whether students graduate from high school be delayed for three years.
The state's massive Education Reform Act of 1982 requires that school boards, starting this year, set minimum graduation requirements that include passage of a minimum-com-petency test in reading, writing, and mathematics in grade 11. The act also mandates competency testing in grades 3, 5, and 8.
But Mr. Boyd said last week that he would recommend that use of the test as a graduation requirement be delayed until the 1987-88 school year. The first group of students to take the test would be today's 8th graders.
Worried About a Lawsuit
Mr. Boyd said that he supports administering the tests in all four6grades this year. But he warned that using the 11th-grade test to determine graduation without careful, advanced planning could embroil the state in a lawsuit similar to a widely publicized Florida case, Debra P. v. Turlington.
In that suit, filed in 1978 on behalf of black students who had failed a state-mandated exit test, lawyers for the students argued that Florida's minimum-competency test for high-school graduation was unconstitutionally discriminatory.
The plaintiffs alleged that theyel5lwere handicapped by having attended segregated schools, that they were not given adequate notice that the test would be required for graduation, and that they were not provided with the instruction needed to pass the test.
Although the district-court judge in the case delayed the state's imposition of the graduation test for several years--until all black students in Florida could be said to have attended desegregated schools for 12 years--he did not find it inherently unconstitutional. Subsequently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Continued on Page XX
State Chief To Seek Delay in Use of Competency Test
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Circuit upheld the lower court's ruling that Florida schools teach the skills necessary to pass the test and that the black students' failure was not attributable to "the vestiges of segregation." (See Education Week, May 9, 1984.)
More Time for Planning
According to Mr. Boyd, the judges' rulings in Debra P. emphasized that before a state ties its competency test to students' receipt of a high-school diploma, it must ensure that the test reflects the curricula taught in the schools and that students have had time to prepare.
Mr. Boyd said he will propose that this year's 8th graders be told now that they will have to pass the test before they graduate.
Meanwhile, he proposes administering the test to 11th graders in each of the next three years so that the state can see how well the test works and where students' deficiencies lie. That way, Mr. Boyd said, problems with the test itself or with instruction can be eliminated before the test "counts."
A state task force is currently working on the content of the minimum-competency tests for all four grade levels. The task force has not yet determined whether local variations will be allowed in the tests. The Education Reform Act calls for a "uniform, statewide program of assessment."
Mr. Boyd said his department is looking at ways to postpone the graduation requirement without having to amend the Education Reform Act, since he does not want to open the act up for all kinds of changes.
Although Mr. Boyd said he expects that some individuals will be upset by the delay, reaction thus far has been positive. John L. Hartman, executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association, said school boards probably would welcome a little more time to implement the test.