By JEFF AMY
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi lawmakers in coming weeks could change the rules governing schools in significant ways.
Among proposals still alive in the 2017 Legislature are measures to limit the number of statewide and districtwide testing days, require 17-year-olds to stay in school, and require a district taken over by the state to achieve a "C" rating for five years in a row before it could be returned to local control.
Lawmakers have already killed a number of proposals, including requiring school board members to be elected at the same time, cutting the number of school days from 180 to 170, and requiring students to pass the U.S. citizenship test.
This year's top education debate is over rewriting Mississippi's school funding formula, and other legislation being considered is less weighty than earlier debates over charter schools and taking over struggling schools.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, is sponsoring House Bill 866, which would say no student could be given statewide tests for more than three days during a three-week testing window set by the state Department of Education. It also would say any individual district couldn't give a districtwide test for more than 20 days during a school year.
Lawmakers say they are reacting to reports by some teachers that their students spend dozens of days in testing. However, it's been unclear from debate whether all students are being tested during those periods, or whether groups of students are being shuttled through computer labs. Many districts don't have enough computers or internet bandwidth for all students to take tests at the same time. The state Department of Education has said that no individual student it required to spend more than three days on state tests now.
Gunn is also pushing House Bill 1227, which would abolish a former statewide teacher evaluation system and allow each district to adopt its own teacher evaluation system. State Superintendent Carey Wright has said the department has already stopped using the Mississippi Statewide Teacher Appraisal Rubric, replacing it with a different evaluation system. However, she opposes allowing each district to choose its own evaluation model, saying there needs to be statewide consistency.
Senate Bill 2431 and House Bill 875 would change the current school takeover model used by the Department of Education, renaming the chief official appointed by the state Board of Education an interim superintendent rather than a conservator. Wright says she wants to focus state takeovers more on academic improvement and less on complying with state rules and improving finances. Both bills would require any district with an academic rating of "D" or "F" to achieve a "C" rating for five consecutive years before it could be returned to local control. Because the state has, in the past, struggled to improve academic performance in districts it takes over, that could mean a district would be under state control indefinitely.
Other proposals would require more teaching of cursive writing, raise the age that a student could legally drop out of school from 17 to 18 and exempt districts with "A" and "B" ratings from some state rules.