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New diploma options, fewer exams in Lincoln County schools

Lincoln County schools are diversifying graduation options and throwing out nine-weeks tests as part of a policy update for the coming school year.

The Lincoln County School Board on Monday approved 61 policies and procedures for the district’s rule book, with most comprising minor tweaks to existing rules to bring the district into compliance with shifting state standards and others simply restated, unchanged, or removed if out of date. One of the biggest changes to the book are new diploma options for the Class of 2022 that will allow students  to earn advanced endorsements in-line with the Mississippi Department of Education’s College and Career Readiness Standards.

“The distinguished diploma will be a significant accomplishment for students who go that route,” said Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers. “It will cause us to reevaluate our curriculum and the courses that are offered. The landscape is changing all the time.”

The new graduation accomplishments will allow incoming freshmen to graduate career and technical, academic and distinguished academic endorsements to traditional diplomas.

The career and technical endorsement will require 26 credits, a GPA of 2.5, a silver level on ACT WorkKeys and one of three career and technical credit options. An academic endorsement will require 26 credits, a GPA of 2.5, college preparedness courses, certain college readiness benchmarks and advanced course options.

The distinguished academic endorsement will require 28 credits, a GPA of 3.0, college preparedness courses, target ACT subject area scores and advanced course options more rigorous than the basic academic endorsement.

“These diploma options were created to help students make sure they’re taking what they need so they’re ready for college, or a career, when they leave high school,” said district curriculum director and assistant superintendent Richelle Ratcliff.

The district’s new dropout prevention policy requires the superintendent to give the board regular updates on efforts to increase retention, requires the district to maintain accurate enrollment and attendance records and aligns the district with existing state dropout prevention policies.

The district is also doing away with traditional nine-weeks tests that count for 25 percent of the nine-week term’s grade. Ratcliff said the district only gave nine-weeks tests for the second and fourth terms during the previous school year, and this year schools will not require them, opting instead to free-up testing weeks for more teaching.

“We want our teachers to teach bell-to-bell, to use as much instructional time as possible,” she said. “The teachers will be able to assess their students as desired, but it won’t count for a quarter of their grade. The quarter average will just be an average of all the grades during that quarter.”

The district is also amending its policy on promotion and retention, upping the target reading level on the “reading gate” tests for third-graders to pass into fourth grade from two to three as part of a planned phase-in set by the state.

Older students will now need to have A averages to exempt year-end exams, and ninth-graders who had trouble with eighth-grade math will now be able to take a foundations course to get them back on track.

The district has firmed up its textbook management plan and set a fee scale to charge students for damaged books. Books damaged to the point of being unusable or decorated with obscene writing or drawing will result in a fine equal to the cost of the book, while damaged covers or spines will cost 25 percent of the book’s price. Excess wear or superficial damage will cost 10 percent, and missing pages are $1 each.

The district also has an updated policy on the selection of library materials which requires professional staff to select materials that support the curriculum, offer opposing viewpoints, represent various faiths and cultures, and are selected with “principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice.” The policy also establishes a list of considerations for removing materials from the library.

Another policy update for county schools prevents discrimination against students who may require service animals. The policy mandates the development of 504 Plan to accommodate the student, but also gives school principals authority to remove service animals deemed to be not under the student’s control and the move the student and animal to a different classroom of other students or staff suffer allergic reactions.

The policy quotes federal regulations that make specific reference to allowing properly-trained miniature horses.

All 61 policies were approved by the school board Monday evening with no discussion as part of the consent agenda.