08/09/06 — Board cuts credits for high school graduation

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Board cuts credits for high school graduation

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 9, 2006 1:49 PM

High school students will find it four credits easier to graduate from Wayne County Schools, members of the county's board of education decided at its meeting this week.

Students will now have to earn 24 units to graduate rather than the previous 28-unit requirement. The change does not affect required classwork, just electives.

The board also added an attendance requirement to be eligible for exam exemptions.

Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for instruction, said the graduation requirement changes are part of a new trend to help students graduate as early as possible. They still have to meet all the course requirements, though, she added.

"This gives them another vehicle to get through school," she said. The move is connected to a policy already adopted by the state school board.

The policy primarily affects elective courses, reduced from 14 to 10, Dr. McCullen said. Students will still need four units of English, three units each of science, social studies, and math and one unit of health and physical education.

Local educators and principals worked closely with school officials to bring about the changes, Dr. McCullen said, which included an attendance policy as an added incentive for students' diligence.

The high schools operate under a block schedule -- each semester, students take three or four classes in 90-minute blocks.

Several board members questioned the need to operate under the "four-by-four" schedule as opposed to the traditional school setup where students could take six one-hour classes throughout the year.

"Four-by-four is not for everybody," board member Thelma Smith said. "It takes longer for some students to learn history, for example. (Or) it may be hard to get all that algebra in one semester."

Board member Pete Gurley said he wouldn't mind if the school system reverted back to the traditional schedule.

"I would really like to see us go back for some of those students who fall through the cracks. I think that's something we should consider," he said. "It's just the four-by-four program does not fit all of our students."

A combination was suggested by some of the board members.

"It's wrong to penalize those students who can do the four-by-four. We wouldn't want to hold those back. Since we're doing all this reform, that ought to be something that we consider," said board member Shirley Sims, referring to the option of having traditional and block schedules available for students in each of the high schools.

As for exam exemptions, students in grades 9-12 might qualify to be exempt from final exams in courses that do not have state-mandated end-of-course assessments or VOCATS assessments.

With school attendance being a longstanding issue, Dr. McCullen said the notion of providing an incentive for coming to school and being rewarded at exam time made sense.

The policy change reads that the following qualify for exemptions: Students with an "A" average of 93-100 and no more than four absences, a "B" average of 85-92 and no more than three absences or a "C" average of 80 or above and no more than two absences.

Board member Rick Pridgen questioned the policy's effectiveness.

"I can see where it would encourage students to attend class, but it can't discourage them from learning at the same time," he said.

Dr. McCullen said the school system had a similar policy in place about 10 years ago and the district's attendance was higher.

"We called around other systems and most of them do have some kind of exam exemption," she said.

Such a policy could be just the answer for some struggling students, Mrs. Smith said before likening it to lowering the bar on academic standards.

"For students who cannot make an A, it may make a difference," she said, adding that there is "something kind of wrong about it. We talk about achievement -- (then have a policy with a) "C" average student getting exempt from exams."

Students, however, will likely be very excited about the exemption possibility, Dr. McCullen said.

"That's a good incentive and some students have attendance problems," she said.

Board member George Moye also expressed some hesitation, but joined the board in approving the policy.

"I do have some reservations about it but I will support it. I will support it because of the principals," he said.