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Proposal may be hurdle for transferring private-school students

[02/21/01] Mississippi students who transfer from private, non-public and home-school programs to public high schools might be required to pass four subject-area tests to graduate, depending on what agency accredits their schools.

“No one’s being critical of private school,” state Superintendent of Education Richard Thompson said Tuesday. “We do have a responsibility to maintain certain standards at a state level.”

To ensure that state education standards are upheld, the state Committee of Practitioners on Assessment and Accountability, appointed by Thompson, has proposed that two kinds of accrediting agencies be recognized:

Public schools and non-public schools accredited through any state’s Board of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education-recognized agencies, including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Students transferring from home-school programs, non-accredited private institutions or schools accredited by the Mississippi Private School Association would be required to pass the four subject-area tests to graduate. The tests, in Algebra I, Biology I, English II and U.S. History, eventually will replace the Functional Literacy Exam taken by high school juniors.

Gwen Reiber, headmaster of Porters Chapel Academy, said the subject-area tests place a “burden and unfairness on the child” who is transferring to a public school and does not perform well on cumulative tests.

“I think kids who are doing well academically and who have taken standardized tests should not be encumbered by these extra requirements,” she said. “When what they know is boiled down to one sitting and one test, they stand to lose.”

Porters Chapel enrolls about 280 kindergarten through 12th-grade students and is accredited by the Mississippi Private Schools Association.

“I think MPSA should be recognized,” said Reiber, whose school just completed an audit done every five years by the agency. “They’re not slouchy about requirements at all.”

Thompson and the State Board of Education are pushing for standards in education, though.

“If you have a standard and have all sorts of ways to circumvent, then you really don’t have a standard,” Thompson said.

Linda Hall, academic dean of All Saints’ Episcopal School, agreed. “We need to be held accountable.”

All Saints’ is accredited by SACS and enrolls about 200 students.

Vicksburg Catholic School, which includes St. Francis Xavier Elementary and St. Aloysius High School, is accredited by the State Board of Education and SACS and enrolls more than 700 students.

Vicksburg’s other non-public schools, including Children’s House Montessori School, Southside Christian School and Christian Center for Educational Excellence, are not accredited by agencies recognized by the State Board of Education. However, Vickey White, principal of Southside Christian, said she hopes the school will become MPSA-accredited within the next year.

Vicksburg has one public school district and six non-public school systems. Vicksburg Warren School District, the public system, serves about 9,200 students and includes 12 elementary and secondary schools. The six non-public systems include seven schools and enroll nearly 1,400 students. The local home-school association, Vicksburg Christian Home Educators, involves about 40 families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade.