State ap­proves rat­ings for spe­cial schools over com­plaints

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - News - BY JEFF AMY


Mis­sis­sippi’s state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Thurs­day ap­proved A-to-F school rat­ings for a school dis­trict, plus four schools that teach spe­cial pop­u­la­tions, de­spite com­plaints that the rat­ing sys­tem treats them un­fairly.

Of­fi­cials told the board Thurs­day that un­der their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of state and fed­eral laws, the state must rate those schools us­ing the same tests and stan­dards as other schools. The board had de­layed ac­tion on those schools in Oc­to­ber when it ap­proved grades for oth­ers.

Corinth got a C over­all and its high school was rated F. How­ever, other mea­sures, such as ACT scores and grad­u­a­tion rates, sug­gest the dis­trict per­forms like higher-rated dis­tricts.

“We do not be­lieve it is an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of the achieve­ment and growth of our schools,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Lee Chil­dress. His dis­trict fo­cuses on pre­par­ing stu­dents for the in­ter­na­tional Cam­bridge ex­ams and not Mis­sis­sippi’s state tests.

The state also gave fail­ing marks to the Mis­sis­sippi School for the Blind, Mis­sis­sippi School for the Deaf, and schools in the Har­ri­son County and PascagoulaGau­tier dis­tricts that serve only spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents.

None of those spe­cial schools had ever been rated be­fore, and the state had once agreed to de­velop an al­ter­na­tive rat­ing sys­tem for Corinth, which uses a spe­cial cur­ricu­lum and tests. How­ever, state Chief Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fi­cer

Paula Van­der­ford said the state de­ter­mined in April that it would be il­le­gal for the state to con­tinue with ei­ther pol­icy.

“There are no ex­clu­sions in state or fed­eral law for as­sign­ing grades to schools that have spe­cial pop­u­la­tions,” she said.

State school board mem­ber Johnny Franklin of Bolton, the only board mem­ber who voted against the de­ci­sion, said it’s puni­tive both to schools that seek to be in­no­va­tive and that are al­ready chal­lenged with stu­dents who are blind, deaf or have se­vere dis­abil­i­ties.

“They’ve got enough chal­lenges as it is with­out us go­ing and hang­ing an­other thing around their neck, and that’s an F,” Franklin said.

Chil­dress dis­putes the state’s le­gal in­ter­pre­ta­tion. He notes that the waiver granted to Corinth to al­low it to adopt a dif­fer­ent cur­ricu­lum, a mod­i­fied year-round sched­ule and other changes is the same law the state cited in re­fus­ing to de­velop an al­ter­na­tive as­sess­ment. And in some other states un­der the cur­rent Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act, in­di­vid­ual school dis­tricts are choos­ing among dif­fer­ent types of tests.

Corinth has ear­lier gone to court to try to block the grade, but Chil­dress said it was likely the lo­cal school board would choose to ap­peal to the state Com­mis­sion on School Ac­cred­i­ta­tion. Turn­ing first to such ad­min­is­tra­tive reme­dies could give Corinth bet­ter grounds in a later court ap­peal.

Chil­dress said he hoped the dis­trict and state could re­sume work on get­ting the Cam­bridge ex­ams ap­proved, but said the dis­trict is tak­ing mea­sures to bet­ter pre­pare stu­dents for state tests. He said the low grades won’t un­der­mine Cor­nith’s ef­forts to “do school dif­fer­ently.”

“We do not think it will un­der­mine it in any way,” he said. “Our com­mit­ment to Cam­bridge re­mains strong.”



State Chief Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fi­cer Paula Van­der­ford

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