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Mississippi cuts math teacher test score, citing shortage

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is lowering the standardized test score that a student must achieve to become a middle school or high school math teacher, citing a teacher shortage.

The state Board of Education approved the change Thursday and it took effect immediately. The change is also retroactive, meaning 89 students who would not have qualified for a license between 2013 and today will now be eligible.

Students have to pass the standardized Praxis II test in math to earn the license. Mississippi, like 27 other states and the District of Columbia, had required a score of 160 on the test, which is scored on a 1-200 scale. Now, Mississippi will be one of seven states requiring less than that level, along with Iowa at 135, Alabama at 145, Nebraska at 146, South Carolina at 150, and Colorado and Kansas at 152.

Math teacher groups had lobbied for the change, saying 160 is too high. The Educational Testing Service, the New Jersey-based entity that administers the test, says the national median score on the test is 158, meaning half the students score above that level and half below.

Harrison County superintendent Roy Gill, writing in support of the plan, said a woman who has been named the district’s middle school teacher of the year achieves great results teaching Algebra I, but scored only 153 on the test. Gill wrote that the test covers a broad variety of higher math including calculus and statistics when a teacher may only be teaching algebra or geometry.

“Although two of my degrees are in mathematics and I have taught at the college level, I find the scope of the test rigorous,” Harrison County district math specialist Stephanie Brewer wrote in arguing for the change.

Before 2013, Mississippi had the lowest score nationwide required on the math test, but voted to raise it as part of a general toughening of teacher preparation academic standards. Educators and business leaders pushed for the change , but some now support the decrease. University of Mississippi Education Dean David Rock, for example, signed a letter supporting the increase then and signed another letter in March supporting the decrease.
Cory Murphy, who oversees teacher licensing for the state, told board members that about 10 percent more students would likely pass the test under the new standard. Mississippi, though, licenses few new secondary school math teachers each year. Federal data show only 88 students completed a secondary math credential among all the teacher preparation programs statewide in 2015-2016.

“Mathematics is one of our critical shortage areas and by no means will adjusting the score address that,” said Paula Vanderford, the department’s chief accountability officer.

The number of overall candidates enrolled or completing Mississippi teacher preparation programs has been falling sharply since 2013. The state has already taken other moves to aid teaching candidates who can’t pass part of the Praxis, allowing people to teach for a year and enroll in an alternate route certification program before passing the Praxis.