By: Lucy Pruitt and Elizabeth Lee
Recently, the Lamar County School District made the decision to be one of five school districts in the state to pilot the Excellence for All grant program. The grant, worth $50,000, was awarded to the district from the Mississippi Department of Education to revamp the core curriculum and implement more rigorous classes. As a result of the new programs, changes will come for coursework, tests, and possibly the way the state measures the districts’ performances. Another result of the program will be no state testing for students at the end of each semester; however, subject exams will be put in place. Tess Smith, Principal of Sumrall High School, is heading up the implementation of the new program. “Students will no longer take the Subject Area Tests (SATs), but instead will take a test at the end of each course,” Smith said. “The only state test students will continue to take is U.S. History.”
The Excellence for All curriculum has been designed to coexist with the new Common Core standards and curriculum to prepare students for the Common Core assessments in 2014-2015, along with future ACT testing.
In order to focus high school students on college and career readiness, the district chose to switch to the ACT company’s Quality Core curriculum, which means students graduating from high school will already have acquired some college credits. This allows students who don’t plan on attending college to be more eligible for jobs right out of high school. Kim Benton, interim deputy state superintendent, stated, “This is an innovative program of study that’s designed to prepare students for college and career pathways that will allow them to succeed on a national and international level.” The coursework will provide several options for students of all levels. “Students in grades nine and ten can earn enough credits to exit high school early and go on to community college if they wish,” Benton said. “They can also stay in high school and pursue advanced coursework in 11th and 12th grades, taking college courses while still in school.” The flexibility and more specialized coursework will improve every student’s education by specifically targeting their weak areas and better preparing them for life after high school, whether in a community college, university, trade school, or elsewhere.
A common practice for students today is memorizing the curriculum only to pass the test. Soon after the test, all memory of the material is forgotten. In educational paths, this is not a habit that will help students become career and college ready. The Excellence for All program focuses on teaching the students and getting them prepared for college and for their future. The curriculum will essentially be taught the same way it is being taught now, but Lamar County School District teachers will receive a five-day training course, funded by the $50,000 grant, to help them get acquainted with the new program.
Grades 9 and 10 will undergo the changes next year, and grades 11 and 12 will implement the new courses beginning the 2014-2015 school year. Changes are being staggered to allow the upperclassmen to continue on the educational path they have been on without interrupting the system to which they are accustomed. Students, teachers, and parents are embracing the promising new course standards and learning methods that characterize the curriculum chosen for Excellence for All.