By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi’s new pilot program that will allow high school students to graduate early and upperclassmen to earn extensive college credit will launch this fall with one Northeast Mississippi district participating.
Leaders in the Corinth School District are preparing this summer to be one of three in the state to attempt the innovative approach. Corinth will be joined by Gulfport and Clarksdale.
Although the Tupelo Public School District was one of seven districts invited by the state Department of Education to pilot the program, administrators recently declined, citing a need to focus on restoring public trust.
Under the program, high school freshmen who choose to participate will enroll in rigorous English, science, social studies, math and fine art courses. After two years, those students would take a board exam that is aligned with international norms to measure how well they have learned the material. Students who pass that exam will have three options:
• Enroll in an upper division of the program with university preparatory classes and the chance to earn university credit.
• Graduate and enroll in a community college or enter the workforce.
• Remain in the program to further sharpen skills.
Tupelo’s school board had approved the district’s participation in the program during a December meeting. Since then, the district’s superintendent and its high school principal have changed.
“With the number of changes implemented during the 2010-11 school year and the fact we were trying to recommit ourselves to restoring trust and confidence, we decided that instead of making another change, we would study it and be better prepared,” Interim Superintendent David Meadows said.
Meadows said the Mississippi Department of Education allowed the district to delay its participation until 2012. He said the school board will decide later whether to move forward with the program.
Meanwhile, Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress said his district is excited to be among the first to use the program.
“It provides additional opportunities for our students,” Childress said. “We think it can address the dropout issue, and at the same time, address increased rigor and improve student achievement. In many cases, you don’t see that in a program.”
Corinth officials recently visited three schools in Florida that use Cambridge, the company that produces the curriculum and exams Corinth will use. Students enrolled in those upper-level Cambridge courses have earned as many as 33 college credits while in high school, Childress said. They do so by passing tests, similar to Advanced Placement exams. A team of CHS teachers also attended a week-long training in Phoenix to better understand the new courses they will teach.
While schools have used Cambridge for upper-division courses, using the company for freshman and sophomores, with the option of early graduation, will be new in the United States. Cambridge allows two tracks, a regular one and an advanced one – although both will be faster-paced and more in-depth than current high school courses. That will allow most of Corinth High School’s 565 students to enroll in the program, Childress said.
The district will unveil the program next year for students in all four grades, not just for freshmen. Some students will remain in the regular classes under the old model.
Details are still being finalized about how students would be able to graduate early, Childress said. The district is also working with the MDE to determine how state testing would be impacted.