BESE eyes new graduation policy

BATON ROUGE - Another change to the statewide uniform policies for students who plan to graduate from high school in less than four years is seemingly just around the corner.

Louisiana educators are about to draw up new the new policies. Nancy Beben, director of curriculum standards for the state Department of Education, said the regulations will be presented in October to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

The policy issues stem from a new state law designed to make it easier for public school students who are on an accelerated track to finish high school in less time. Some students are meeting graduation requirements in three or three and a half years, instead of the traditional four years.

The new state law’s sponsor, state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said districts sometimes, however, erect roadblocks to early graduation because local officials think students are immature or for other reasons.

“If a kid is willing and able to do all the work required and does it quicker, he should not be punished,” LaFleur said in an interview Wednesday. “He should be rewarded.”

Beben told board members that they approved a policy that banned school districts from enacting policies that hampered early graduations about a year ago.

But according to LaFleur, the problem still exists.

During hearings on the bill, he said some superintendents complained that it would be a mistake for the state to have an early graduation policy for all students.

“Some districts had rules in place that prevent that from happening,” he said of early exits for students who met the requirements.

One of the ways officials say that students are being blocked is by preventing them from taking English IV until they are seniors.

High school students currently have to earn 23 course credits, also known as Carnegie units, to get a traditional diploma. That number increases to 24 in 2012.

For schools that offer block scheduling, students can take eight courses per year, or 32 courses over the traditional four years of high school. Under block scheduling, students take four courses per semester for 90 minutes per day. In contrast, traditional high school schedules are six or seven periods per day that each last 50 to 60 minutes.

Half the state, or 34 districts, have schools that offer block schedules, according to a state survey.

And the reasoning behind early graduations vary–some students are eager to start college, while others are planning to enter the military or the work force.

Educators have heard stories for years about high school seniors who have met so many graduation requirements that their last school days consist of one class, according to Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma, BESE member.

“We felt that was a terrible waste of time,” said Buquet.

It is still unclear as to what the new state policy from BESE would entail.

LaFleur’s bill says local school districts should offer students flexible course scheduling, distance learning and online courses and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

AP classes allow students, if they meet certain standards on college exams, to earn high school and college credit simultaneously.

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