Sometime, back in the early 90's, I sat on a workforce development task force that was looking at future directions for vocational schools in Kentucky. I remember that Bill Samuels (yes, Maker's Mark) and I had some thoughts about top students moving on to college earlier. We thought there were a number of juniors ready to go, and senior year was about half wasted for most decent students. I wasn't very creative, I suppose, so I didn't get very far outside the box. But I argued that the GED ought to be used by two types of students, rather than one. The first was the typical student who had dropped out and wanted to get back on track. But the second group of students were our top Juniors who were bored with school and who were treading water. I reasoned they should drop out, immediately pass the GED, and go straight on to college. My solution lacked sophistication, but in my mind, got the job done. It was a lovely chat that produced no results.
Now Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is thinking along the same lines. But the Commish is taking a swing at the almighty Carnegie unit and promoting a system where, at a certain level of maturity, top students would be incentivized to pass an exam and move on.
This from the New York Times:
Eight states are introducing new courses and a battery of tests for sophomores that will allow students who pass to enroll immediately in community college.
Dozens of public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college.
Students who pass but aspire to attend a selective college may continue with college preparatory courses in their junior and senior years, organizers of the new effort said. Students who fail the 10th-grade tests, known as board exams, can try again at the end of their 11th and 12th grades. The tests would cover not only English and math but also subjects like science and history.
The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including
Denmark, England, Finland, France and Singapore.
The program is being organized by the National Center on Education and the Economy, and its goals include insuring that students have mastered a set of basic requirements and reducing the numbers of high school graduates who need remedial courses when they enroll in college. ...
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a $1.5 million planning grant to the NCEE which will, in turn, spend about $500 a student, to buy courses and tests and to train teachers in a new system. Those eight participating states - Kentucky, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont - will begin the new coursework in the fall of 2011. Holliday has pledged to have pledged to sign up 10 or more schools for the pilot project, and has begun to reach out to district superintendents.
Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Terry Holliday, said high school graduation requirements there had long been based on having students accumulate enough course credits to graduate.“This would reform that,” Dr. Holliday said. “We’ve been tied to seat time for 100 years. This would allow an approach based on subject mastery — a system based around move-on-when-ready.”
The new system aims to provide students with a clear outline of what they need to study to succeed, said Phil Daro, a consultant based in Berkeley, Calif., who is a member of an advisory committee for the effort.
School systems like Singapore’s promise students that if they diligently study the material in their course syllabuses, they will do well on their examinations, Mr. Daro said. “In the U.S., by contrast, all is murky,” he said. “Students do not have a clear idea of where to apply their effort, and the system makes no coherent attempt to reward learning.”
The idea is to reduce the need for colleges to offer remedial courses. The plan calls for tests in the sophomore year that would be set at the level necessary to succeed in first-year college. Failure would alert students to the specific knowledge and skills they need to master in high school before seeking to enroll in college. The board exam could be retaken in the junior and senior year.
Presently, top students begin taking college-level courses, for credit, while they are still in high school.
States that participate in the pilot project on board examinations will pick up to five programs of instruction, with their accompanying tests, for use by the participating high schools. Those programs already approved by the national center include the College Board’s Advanced Placement, the International Baccalaureate Diploma, ACT’s QualityCore and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education programs offered both by Cambridge International and by Edexcel, part of Pearson Education.
A fast-track approach, which is focused on “at risk” students, is already in place at 71 North Carolina high schools, and is spreading in New York, California and Texas.
The Times asked some others to weigh in on the idea as well:
Bard College President Leon Botstein says the approach is long overdue but warns, "whatever system is put in place must stress teaching, not new tests. Relying on American-style standardized tests that reduce subject matter to fill-in-the-blank responses has not worked. If the intent of the initiative is to emulate European models, then the tests have to measure reasoning skills in mathematics, science and writing."
In Kentucky, Senate Bill 1 mandates...a set of substantially American-style standardized multiple choice tests.
MATCH Charter Public School founder Michael Goldstein of Boston opines that "16-year-olds are being offered a trade. Instead of $12,000 per year being spent on them in high school, the state is offering to spend perhaps $2,000 per year on them in community college — thereby subsidizing all the kids who don’t choose this option."
NCEE's Marc Tucker says that because each of the lower division programs (grades 9-10) will be set to a standard of “ready for open admissions two- or four-year college without remediation,” students will know that when they succeed on the lower division exams, they have choices: they can go directly to an open admissions higher education institution without having to take remedial courses, or they can stay in high school and continue in one of the upper division board examination programs (i.e., a series of A.P. classes).
Sandra Stotsky a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas says, "The Gates Foundation, which has abandoned its unsuccessful small high school initiative, and the National Center on Education and the Economy, which once supported the unsuccessful school-to-work initiative, have come up with another idea that makes no sense, whether for the potential high school dropout at the age of 16, for the student who can barely pass Algebra I by grade 10, or for the student who has passed Algebra II by the end of grade 10."
New York schools Chancellor Rudy Crew says, "At the end of the day this is about connecting students to their post-secondary and career dreams. As a nation, we need to create a system of schools whose architecture is no longer aimed at a traditional high school diploma, but focused on multiple exits that can lead down career, military, vocational or collegiate paths. In a globally-connected century, this is what a good education means."
Kenneth J. Bernsteinn, a teacher of AP government at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. opines, "Going to college early is nothing new. My mother graduated from Hunter College High School at 14, Cornell at 18 and Columbia Law at 21, which is perhaps why she only let me skip one grade — she wanted to let me grow up."
Education Trust VP Amy Wilkins says,"Such exams are not a panacea for our nation’s high schools or the achievement gaps that plague them. But well-designed — and well-utilized — end-of-course assessments can help fill the urgent need for good information about where we should be aiming all students and how close we are to getting there."