Legislators weigh in on accountability scores, exit exams

Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, speaks at a town hall hosted by the SDN on Thursday, Sept. 13. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

The SDN’s Legislator Town Hall meeting held Thursday, Sept. 13 gave the community an opportunity to address concerns and ask questions oftheir local legislators.

Many of the questions brought forth by citizens dealt with education, particularly focusing on the constantly changing accountability standards the state has seen through the past few years. Other education issues also were discussed, including the possible use of the ACT as an exit exam. Four legislators participated in the town hall: Starkville Republican state Rep. Rob Roberson; Starkville Democrat state Rep. Cheikh Taylor; Columbus Republican state Rep. Gary Chism and West Point Democrat state Sen. Angela Turner-Ford.

Stanley Miller, a retired educator who served as principal and athletic director at Starkville High School, as well as superintendent of school districts in Pearl and in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, expressed displeasure at the amount of changes. He said they made teachers’ and principals’ lives harder.

“Every year they’re changing the standards,” Miller said. “I don’t care if it’s ACT, SAT, whatever. Give us one standard and stay with it. The frustration of our teachers, the frustration of our students, the frustration of our administrators and our superintendents, what game are we playing? What are we trying to accomplish?”

Roberson, who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, agreed with Miller on the issue. Chism also spoke to the issue, and said it was exacerbated by State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright’s opposition to using the ACT as an exit exam, despite many other states doing so.

“All I am told is that she has her principal meetings, she has her groups, but they’re handpicked, you know, that goes along with what she wants,” Chism said. “They need to have the whole body of folks that is in those meetings to really speak up and tell her. Hopefully, we’ll get something accomplished this year. That is our goal. I do mean that.”

Chism said he would support bringing federal employees in to work on accountability and exit exams with the department. He also spoke to the state already paying for students to take the ACT in their junior year.

“That’s been part of the problem,” Roberson said. “One minute you get valid information that you think is coming in, and 15 minutes later you have somebody who tells you completely the opposite. I’m an attorney. I’m not a professional educator. It’s very hard for me to want to do something different whenever it could be wrong.”