Northeast Mississippi school district signals lawsuit on state grades

Published 9:59 pm Friday, February 1, 2019

(AP) — A northeast Mississippi school district has filed notice that it will pursue legal action over the grades its schools received from the state, even as lawmakers from the area press for a legislative fix.

The Corinth school district filed a notice of appeal Jan. 25 in Hinds County Circuit Court, saying Corinth will challenge the state Board of Education’s Jan. 15 decision that the school district should get a C rating and Corinth High School an F rating.

The district maintains the state has unfairly reneged on a deal to develop an alternative grading system incorporating Corinth’s use of a different kind of exam than the normal state test.

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“We feel a promise was made to Corinth and the promise has not been fulfilled by the state Department of Education,” Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress said last month.

The state designated Corinth as one of a number of districts of innovation, and using that status, Corinth began structuring its curriculum around the Cambridge exams, international assessments administered by a unit of Cambridge University in England. The district also adopted a modified year-round schedule.

As part of the changes, Corinth and the Mississippi Department of Education agreed at the time to develop an alternative assessment model to assign A-to-F ratings to the district and its schools under Mississippi’s school rating system. But last year, state officials concluded that both state and federal law required Corinth to be graded based on the same state tests that all other students take in grades 3-8 and high school.

“It was ultimately decided it wasn’t viable to move forward with a modified model or adjusted model,” Chief Academic Officer Nathan Oakley told the state Board of Education last month.

Corinth students had been taking those tests, but the district had instead been emphasizing the Cambridge exams. When students at Corinth High School took the tests early last summer without any review, they bombed them. Even though the high school has a 95 percent graduation rate and a composite ACT score far above the state average, the school’s grade came back as an F and the district’s grade came back as a C.

That set off a round of appeals, concluding with the state board refusing to change Corinth’s grade on Jan. 15. But the end of the appeal process means Corinth can now argue its case before Hinds County Circuit Judge Faye Peterson.

In the meantime, Democratic state Rep. Nick Bain of Corinth has introduced House Bill 688, which would require the state to develop the alternative grading system. That bill would direct the state to assign Corinth a placeholder grade of “district of innovation” while it was developing the system. The House Education Committee passed the measure Thursday, sending it to the full House for more debate.