Plan gains to let 11th-graders study up

NASHUA – Commissioner of Education Lyonel Tracy said a plan is starting to move forward that would allow some high school students to begin taking community college courses in their junior years.

At the state Board of Education meeting held in Nashua on Wednesday, Tracy talked about the proposal, which has garnered national attention, and tried to clarify how it would work.

The plan would give students who passed a board of exams after their sophomore years an opportunity to essentially opt out of their final two years of high school and start taking college courses.

Tracy said some people have raised concerns about students missing out on the high school experience, but he said the option would be there for students to take the college courses and remain involved in their school.

“They don’t have to leave,” Tracy said. “They can stay in their own high school.”

Students could still take part in extracurricular activities and sports, he said. Some schools may be able to offer the courses within the building, he said.

Tracy added that the exam wouldn’t be just a “score on a test,” but a thorough review of a student’s body of work up until that point.

The plan was one of the recommendations to come out of a report called “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” authored by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce in 2006.

New Hampshire is one of three states selected from volunteers to pursue one of the recommendations from the report. Massachusetts and Utah are working on different recommendations.

Tracy said that over the next couple of months, a team of educators would be created to look at reviews used worldwide that could be a model for what would be used in New Hampshire.

Once developed, schools in the state would be asked to pilot the program, he said. Tracy has not set a hard deadline for implementation.

The goal would be for students to be able to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from a community college, Tracy said.

There are still questions about who is going to pay for the college courses.

“The future of education in America will be developed here in New Hampshire first,” said board member Fred Bramante.

Tracy said New Hampshire is already ahead of the curve with regard to giving students opportunities to advance. Through a program called Project Running Start, 3,000 high school students in the state are currently earning college credit, he said.

And the state, as part of new school-approval standards, has required high schools to give students the opportunity to earn high school credits through experiences outside the school building.”We can no longer document education by the amount of seat time accumulated over four years,” Tracy said.

Wednesday’s meeting was held in Nashua as part of an effort by the state Board of Education to hold meeting in communities across the state. The board’s meeting in November was in Berlin.

Prior to the start of the meeting, several groups of students, chosen to reflect the various programs at the city’s two high schools, made presentations to the board.

One of the presentations involved a group of English Language Learner students, who gave to board members copies of a cookbook their class made as a project. The cookbook comprises recipes from their home countries.

A group of chorus students serenaded board members with holiday music and sang the national anthem when the meeting started.