/Students flourish at this high school So why is it labeled an F

Students flourish at this high school So why is it labeled an F

Mississippi News Corinth — Grace Ann Davis invited her friends to her home to study for an intensive chemistry test. This exam is one she would take in highschool and can lead to a diploma. They created detailed, color-coded charts that illustrated different chemical categories, their relationships, and reactions. This was to help them review the material they would need to know for their exam. Davis, a Corinth High School junior, said that the exam took six hours. It was insane. Davis passed the exam. However, her high school’s performance in a separate test earned it an unofficial F rating by the state. A long-running battle has erupted over the district’s grades, which has now spilled into the state capitol and the courts. The school district claims it is doing the best for its students, and it is being punished for it. However, the state insists that they are bound by federal law. These ratings have been fought by school leaders from the beginning. They argue that the Mississippi Department of Education should use the assessments Davis and her peers all year to grade the district. Not the state assessment used by everyone else. While Corinth students are required to take the same state exams as their peers in Mississippi, Superintendent Lee Childress repeatedly claimed that using these test results to assess his students was unfair. The 2017-18 results aren’t accompanied by punitive measures as they are not official, but the 2018-19 school-year ratings will be counted. Dane Aube, principal of Corinth High School, worries that the rating will have an adverse effect on the local economy and business. He said that Caterpillar Inc., a multi-national equipment manufacturer, is based in the northeast Mississippi town. Aube stated, “Now that someone is looking to move here, and sees an F even though it does not say unofficially, whatever that means? It’s something that we take very seriously.” Corinth is a District of Innovation. This means that in 2016, the state Department of Education gave them the freedom to operate in a way different from traditional public schools. There are eight districts, each with their own model. Students in Corinth follow a four-quarter school year that is heavily focused on the Cambridge Assessment International Education curriculum. It was first implemented into Corinth schools during the 2011-12 school years. Childress stated that this is not something we decided to do simply because of the District of Innovation. This has been a way to live at the high school. This has become a way of life at the high school. Corinth teachers grade students’ coursework. Then, they are boxed up and shipped to Cambridge University, England where university officials review them. Officials at Cambridge can adjust grades if they feel that a teacher is too harsh or lenient. The university scores only the papers that students submit to for their end-of year exams, known as the Cambridge International Examinations. Childress stated that it was difficult to get started because it required a new way of teaching and an entirely different approach to assessment. “But now it’s something we’re getting into, we’re starting to see that our kids are achieving, they’re flourishing.” The composite ACT for juniors in the district, which all Mississippi students must take, is at least one point higher then the state’s average. It ranged from 18.7 in 2014-15 to 18.9 in last year, compared to 17.8 in the state. Although the percentage of graduates has fallen in the last school year, the graduation rate is still higher than the average for the state. According to Sherry Reach (deputy regional director for Cambridge North America), Panama City schools were the first to adopt the Cambridge program in 1994. The Cambridge curriculum is used in approximately 500 schools across 32 states and the District of Columbia today. Two curriculum tracks are offered to Corinth high school students by Cambridge: the International General Certificate of Secondary Education IGCSE and the Advanced International Certificate of Education IICE Diploma program. Students in ninth and tenth grades take IGCSE courses, including science, math, and history. Some eighth-graders also take these courses. If they are able to demonstrate college and career readiness, they can earn an early exit diploma. If they choose, this diploma allows them to enter a community college or technical school. A traditional diploma is also available to students. However, many students choose to obtain their AICE diploma. Students can receive this diploma once they are: Seniors, juniors, and sophomores have traditionally been able to take AICE courses. These courses are intensive and more research-based. Childress stated that a few advanced freshmen will be taking AICE exams during the current school year. Grace Ann Davis, a junior chemistry genius, was studying for the AICE chemistry exam and when she created those charts with her peers. Reach stated that one of the main differences between (the) exams and other tests is that they are mostly composed of questions and tasks which require extended writing, and very few multiple-choice options. It’s very different in that regard. It’s about applying knowledge and skills, not picking the right answer out of a list of four.” Jim Henson is the teacher of the global perspectives course at the high-school. All students must pass it in order to receive an AICE diploma. He said that the Cambridge curriculum is challenging but that students are doing well. Henson stated that this is not a school for advanced charter students with a large population. “We are a Mississippi school that has the same population as Mississippi. “We’re taking international benchmark tests and doing well in these,” Childress stated. In 2017, Corinth students took 575 AICE assessments. The pass rate in Corinth was 59 percent, compared to 61% in the United States. Over 650 universities and colleges around the globe accept Cambridge diplomas and coursework. The University of Mississippi, Mississippi State and Millsaps accept Cambridge in Mississippi. The Cambridge AICE diploma is available at both the University of Mississippi (Mississippi State) and University of Mississippi (University of Mississippi). Aube, Corinth High’s principal, stated that the Cambridge AICE certification is something she tells her students every day. It’s the only thing on their resume that will count in highschool when they are 40. April Cole, a math instructor, said that it is her job as a teacher to prepare students for the exams by requiring them to think critically and not just memorize. Teachers had an idea of the types of questions that students might be asked when she was teaching algebra at the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program. They were going to ask them how to determine the slope of the graph. Cole stated that they were going to ask them for slopes given two points. It’s different with Cambridge, she explained. “You don’t know what they’re going to ask (the questions). We only know what skills they need. They must be able “to problem-solve more than to think on their feet.” Districts of Innovation may be exempt from various state regulations in order to reach the academic goals set out in their plan. The state department of education granted several waivers to Corinth. One of these would prevent the district from being awarded an accountability grade. Leaders must develop a plan to use the Cambridge assessments instead of the standard state test that most Mississippi districts use. Problem is, the plan was never implemented. Childress was sent a letter by the state department of education in June 2018 stating that the district would be given an unofficial grade for 2017-18 school year based on the results of the MAAP exams. This is required by federal law. Every school must be assigned a grade by Mississippi under the Every Student Succeeds Act. A large part of a school’s grade is determined by how they perform on MAAP (a standardized test that students take in subjects such as English and math). Corinth received an A rating in all years before it became a District of Innovation. Because they didn’t request the same exemption that Corinth, grades have been given to other Districts of Innovation, such as Baldwyn and Booneville, Vicksburg Warren, Grenada, Grenada, and Hinds County. Oxford was named the District of Innovation’s newest District in March. Ratings are determined using a point system that heavily relies on student performance in the state assessment. In Mississippi, the Mississippi Curriculum Test was replaced by a PARCC-to MAAP test over a three year period. This test is still in use today. Corinth offered the state department of Education an alternative accountability model that used the Cambridge exam. However, the state declined to take up the offer. The majority of school districts spend the entire year studying for the MAAP assessment. They then take the exams in April or May. Childress stated that the MAAP exams were taken in June by Corinth students. Childress stated that teachers could have placed more emphasis on the MAAP assessment, and perhaps improved scores, if they had been informed sooner. Childress stated that although they claimed they made the decision in April and didn’t tell us until June, they did not inform us. “I have a real problem.” Childress admitted that the students did not perform well in the state assessment, as the district didn’t believe these results would be counted. Childress stated that the assessment was taken in the final week of school. Childress explained that there wasn’t a lot of emphasis and there was no review. “There was no review of the MAAP assessments.” The district received an unofficial C rating. The elementary school was given a D and Corinth Middle School received a C. Aube, principal, took the high school’s F very seriously. Aube stated, “I’m failing according to MDE.” Corinth school officials tried multiple ways to challenge these ratings. In September, the district filed an application for a temporary injunction and a restraining order. They argued that their accountability ratings should not be publicized because they are misleading and inaccurate. The judge of the chancery court, in whose courtroom this case was filed, ruled that he didn’t have the authority to intervene. The Mississippi Board of Education gave Corinth unofficial grades. Corinth appealed this decision to the Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation. The appeal was denied by both the state board and the commission, so Corinth officials went to the Hinds County Circuit Court. Corinth filed a motion to dismiss the case due to insufficient jurisdiction. Arguments will be heard by a judge on December 4, 2019. On December 4, 2019, a judge will hear arguments. Both bills were defeated in the legislative process. “Under federal law… we must have an assessment that aligns with our state’s strict academic standards. Nathan Oakley, chief academic office for the department of Education, stated that MAAP was created by Mississippi teachers to accomplish this. Oakley acknowledged that ESSA has flexibility waivers that would permit a state to use another assessment if approved. Officials have stated that ESSA’s pilot program for an innovative assessment would not work in Mississippi, as the department doesn’t intend to use Cambridge across the entire state. This second option allows states the opportunity to use a locally approved, nationally recognized assessment instead of the state exam in specific districts. However, it must conform to state academic standards and comply with technical requirements. A U.S. Department of Education committee would peer review the assessment and it would be approved by the federal agency. Oakley stated that states have been repeatedly denied requests throughout the process. This view is not shared by all. Rep. Nick Bain (R-Corinth), who was the author of the House bill that died in this session, said, “That’s an outright lie, in my opinion.” Bain stated that if we are going to allow these districts, we must ….untie our hands at the state department for education. Bain stated that he doesn’t believe the ratings reflect the district, and worries about how it will affect Northeast Mississippi business. He said that hospitals and education are key areas for potential business to be aware of when considering moving to an area. Bain stated that you want an educated workforce. Bain said, “It’s much easier to explain an A than it’s a C or a F.” His bill didn’t survive the legislative session. However, he is still exploring ways to challenge these ratings. Bain wrote to Carey Wright, the state superintendent, asking for information on the department’s activities and plans to assist Corinth in applying for the federal flexibility waiver. Wright replied in a May 14th letter outlining the two options for flexibility waiver. Corinth could request a waiver from the Mississippi Department of Education if they were interested. The department would also review their application and submit it to the federal government. Childress, the superintendent, stated that the department plans to submit the request to state department of education. He said, “I’m optimistic.” He said, “I’m hopeful.”