Originally created 04/09/06

Graduation standards fine-tuned



ATLANTA - Students now in middle school could face new standards to graduate from high school geared to prepare them better for college or the workplace, under a plan being worked on by officials at several state agencies.

Some aspects of the plan are still being worked out, and the entire model would not be implemented for several years. But, if approved, officials across preschool, elementary, secondary and higher education hope the American Diploma Project would boost achievement across the state and help Georgia's students better compete with their peers nationally and across the world.

"It's going to sort of ratchet up the whole system," said Jan Kettlewell, an associate vice chancellor at the University System of Georgia and the point person on the plan for the state.

Ms. Kettlewell's agency is working with the Georgia Department of Education, the Department of Technical and Adult Education and the Governor's Office of Student Achievement to create what they hope will be a more seamless connection between public education and the state's colleges and universities.

The Georgia initiative is part of a nationwide program spearheaded by Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization. The network includes Georgia and 21 other states.

Mike Cohen, the president of Achieve, said the project grew out of concern that not enough was being expected of children before they graduated. Mr. Cohen said far too many children end up in remedial courses after they go to college, while many employers are unhappy with the quality of workers coming out of the nation's high schools.

In addition to strengthening standards, the new system would give students a better idea of what they need to enter college or go to work.

Under the plan, Georgia will make sure its standards for high school classes measure up to national benchmarks. That's something officials say melds nicely with the Georgia Performance Standards, a new and widely praised curriculum passed in a series of meetings by the State Board of Education during the past two years.

The new curriculum would then be used to set certain "threshold courses" that all students would have to pass to graduate.

Deputy Superintendent Stuart Bennett said that there was no reason, in many cases, for students preparing to go into the workplace to have separate courses from some of those available to college-track students.

He noted the new program, which would still allow students to choose "courses of study" without choosing a different diploma, as they do now, would also open up more career-oriented classes to college-track students who might need those courses.

As part of the project, the public education system and colleges and universities would also try to combine the tests used for college placement with those taken by students at the end of high school courses and to graduate.

"The whole idea is to ask ourselves, 'Is there a way that we could come up with a test that could serve both purposes?'" Ms. Kettlewell said.

Not only would that simplify the test-taking process, she said, but it would also give students an idea of what they need to work on in their senior year to get themselves ready for graduation and what lies beyond.

Colleges also hope it will cut back on the number of students taking remedial courses because of what they didn't get in high school.

Ms. Kettlewell said, if it works properly, the plan should allow the regents to "reduce if not eliminate" remedial classes.

The system would also allow the departments to share data on students, potentially tracking the same child from preschool through college.

WHAT'S NEXT

The American Diploma Project, to create a more seamless connection between public education and the state's colleges and universities, could start as soon as 2008.