Schools may join special pilot

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo and Lee County school districts are both applying for grants to participate in the Excellence for All pilot program.
The Mississippi Department of Education will provide 10 districts with $50,000 each to help with the cost of training, materials and preparation for the program, in which students take much more in-depth classes with an internationally-recognized curriculum. The grants are expected to be awarded during the middle of October.
Last year, three school districts – Corinth, Clarksdale and Gulfport – participated in the program’s first year. In it, freshmen and sophomores enroll in more rigorous classes with an international curriculum. Sophomores who pass their board examination are eligible to graduate early. They can also enroll in the upper division of the program with intense college prep courses and an opportunity to earn college credit.
However, the requirements for this grant are slightly different. Schools just had to agree to use one of four curriculum: International Baccalaureate, ACT, Advanced Placement and Cambridge.
Both the Tupelo and Lee County school districts would use the grant to expand their Advanced Placement offerings. Neither would plan to offer the lower division of the program with the early-graduation option.
Lee County’s schools would add more Advanced Placement courses to juniors and seniors at Mooreville, Shannon and Saltillo high schools who had passed certain pre-requisite courses, said testing coordinator Debbie Jones.
Tupelo would use the grant for professional development for all of its sixth- to 12th-grade teachers who teach pre-AP and AP courses. It also would train new teachers so that it can add more such courses, said TPSD grant writer Mary Ann Dillon. The district currently offers 13 AP courses.
“By us being able to add the foreign language component of AP, we will have enough course offerings that people who graduate from THS could earn an AP international diploma,” said Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden.
Tupelo was originally among the districts who studied participating in the program’s first year, but it later declined.
The program was developed by the National Center on Education and the Economy based on more than 20 years of research on countries that outperform the United States on international student assessments. Twenty-one high schools in four states participated last year.
The curriculum used by the program is different from what is used by other schools in the state. In cases where students in the program had to take state tests last year on material they did not study, the MDE did not give those schools an accountability ranking. It is not yet known how the MDE will rank those schools in the future.
However, if Tupelo and Lee County schools merely expanded their AP course offerings, it is unlikely the program would have any impact on their state rankings.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com