Members of a Mississippi testing task force agreed at their first meeting Tuesday to survey school districts about testing practices

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) β€” Before making recommendations about testing in Mississippi school districts, a panel wants to figure out what’s actually happening.

Members of a testing task force agreed at their first meeting Tuesday to survey school districts about questions including how many local tests they administer and whether a lack of computers with sufficient internet bandwidth hampers testing.

“We’re eager to see what a statewide survey might reveal,” said Rachel Canter, a panel member and executive director of Mississippi First. Canter’s group conducted a study of four unnamed school districts in the spring that raised concerns over how much time low-performing schools were spending on district testing and test preparation.

“Essentially there are districts in the state that stop teaching new content entirely after spring break,” Canter said.

Clinton Superintendent Tim Martin said that may be a holdover of old state tests aimed at testing students for their grasp of facts β€” not whether students they can synthesize knowledge.

“You could work very hard to have students memorize facts and your scores would rise,” Martin said. “Test prep, drill and kill, will not help now that you’ve got to teach a student to think.”

Some task force members voiced concerns about the stress of high-stakes testing on students.

“It feeds over to the child,” said Whitney Drewrey, a Lafayette County special education teacher. “They can tell when you’re stressed.”

But state Superintendent Carey Wright defended testing as needed and useful.

“The only way we can find out whether we’ve taught it well enough is to find a way to assess what it is they know,” Wright said.

The panel’s first meeting came after the state accrediting commission recommended Mississippi freeze a plan to make four high school end-of-course exams each count for 25 percent of the corresponding course grade. Instead, if the state Board of Education approves on Thursday, the current requirements will stay in place. Either students will have to pass the tests to graduate or take one of several alternate routes.

“We need some additional time to look at the implementation,” said Paula Vanderford, the department’s chief accountability officer.

School districts expressed concerns about getting test scores back in time to plan schedules for the following semester. That could be a problem for districts that teach a tested subject in a single semester and give a test in December, when results are needed almost immediately.

School officials also raised concerns that school districts don’t have uniform grading scales, meaning the 25 percent requirement could affect grades differently.

The state board of Education had already delayed implementing the 25 percent requirement for biology and U.S. history, but was previously poised to move ahead this fall with algebra and English.

Some including state Rep. Tom Miles, a Democrat from Forest, seek to end those high school tests. Miles is not a member of the panel, but attended Tuesday’s meeting and told reporters he still wants to use the ACT college exam instead to assess high school student performance.

Among members of the panel are four rising high school seniors β€” Icie Cockerham of Hamilton High School, Canton resident Jaylen Patrick of the Mississippi School for the Blind, James Prewitt of Meridian High School and Sadie Smith of Ocean Springs High School.

Several of the students expressed concerns about seemingly pointless tests, or how long testing disrupts their school. Cockerham said after the meeting that she’s like to see her school “teaching knowledge instead of teaching just how to pass a test and show up good.”

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/By%20Jeff%20Amy .