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Mississippi eases graduation and third-grade rules for virus

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi’s education leaders on Thursday moved to ease the way for seniors to graduate and third graders to move on to fourth grade in the face of schools closed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The state Board of Education already voted last week to halt state standardized tests and to have schools and districts keep their current A-to-F ratings for another year. Mississippi officials said Thursday that the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it will formally approve Mississippi’s waiver later, as board members suspended more than a dozen laws and rules.

High school students will earn graduation credits for incomplete courses, and seniors will be allowed to graduate this year as long as they meet other district and state requirements. Districts can change graduation requirements, as long as students earn at least 24 core course credits.

High school students will be allowed to graduate without passing end-of-course tests in algebra, biology, English II and U.S history or achieving alternate test scores, as long as they pass the underlying course. That’s true even if students aren’t seniors but are taking the courses this year.

Thursday, the board also agreed that third graders won’t have to pass a standardized test of reading skills and can advance to fourth grade if they meet other normal requirements. Kindergarten students won’t be administered a dyslexia screener this spring.

Schools won’t have to teach for at least 180 days or 330 minutes a day and students won’t be cited for truancy.

The list of schools and districts that get extra academic aid from the state will stay the same next year, since there won’t be any state tests.

Districts won’t have to submit teacher evaluation data and won’t be cited for failing to maintain required student-teacher ratios or failing to provide licensed teachers. Districts also won’t be cited for failing to educate students in juvenile detention centers as long as they provide similar services to students in detention centers and other students.

College students seeking to become teachers won’t have to meet minimum test scores to enter teacher preparation through the end of 2021, and students seeking to earn teaching licenses this year won’t have to complete 12 weeks of student teaching.

Despite the easing of so many rules, state Superintendent Carey Wright said teachers and administrators are working hard to make sure learning continues.

“Everybody is very committed that this is not time lost for children,” she said.

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