When the Liberty County Board of Education convenes Tuesday, it is expected to act on an issue presented during its last meeting: high school graduation requirements.
In a memo addressed from Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley to the board on behalf of principals and staff at both high schools, Conley recommended trimming the county’s graduation requirements in three areas.
The first change would decrease the number of required social studies units from five to four, still above the state-required level of three. The proposed requirement would cut out a single-unit geography class that currently is required at the local level. The state requires one-half of a unit of economics and one-half of a unit of government, but the local school board requires one full unit of both, which accounts for the additional unit.
The second change would decrease the number of required electives from five to four, which is in line with the state requirement, and the final revision would decrease the total required number of units from 26 to 24, while the state calls for 23.
The proposed change stands to benefit students greatly, Bradwell Institute Principal Scott Carrier said after the Dec. 13 meeting.
“Right now, the state requires 23 credits in order for a student to graduate high school,” he said. “Liberty County requires 26, which means our students have to have three more than other students across the state. … Reducing that number will put our students more in line with those everywhere else in the state, which will give them a better opportunity to graduate on time.”
The number of students who miss graduation requirements within the three-credit window varies too greatly from year to year to be quantified, but it does happen, Carrier said.
During the discussion, Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said that the steeper requirements are rooted in the district’s transition from traditional class schedules, where students take seven or eight classes all year long, to block schedules, where students are enrolled in four classes each 18 weeks.
“Many systems, when they went to block scheduling, had the concern that with block scheduling and the ability to earn eight units a year, that kids would graduate in three years. And we somehow thought that would be just terrible,” she said.
“In reality, most students are here four years anyway, and we’re penalizing students who have to repeat courses and so on because we’re just making them take another elective, we’re not helping them graduate …,” Scherer said. “We’re hurting ourselves in terms of our graduation rate, and we’re making it more difficult for our students to get through than other systems throughout the state.”
And the county graduation rate was the main obstacle that prevented the district from making Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, last year.
To qualify for AYP in the 2010-11 year, high schools had to meet an 85 percent graduation rate, and both Liberty County High School, with 80.1 percent, and Bradwell, with 76.3 percent, fell short.
And though the proposed changes would lift the local rate slightly, both Scherer and Carrier acknowledged that the edge won’t be enough to push the schools into the passing percentile.
“It’s not going to change the percentage of graduates by 10 percent or anything like that — that would be a major change,” Carrier said.
For individual students, the change would help in multiple ways, Carrier said. The maximum number of units a student can earn is 32, and the change would give students eight electives instead of six.
Those who have failed classes in the past will have fewer credits to make up and more time to do so, as space freed from the two units — one once dedicated to an elective and one dedicated to geography — would create more schedule flexibility to repeat classes.
For students who accelerate or are interested in trying their hand at pathways and career-oriented classes, having two more units of flexibility allows more exploration and in-depth study of a specific area, Carrier said.
During the discussion, BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker asked how the decreases would affect personnel — and whether any teachers would lose their jobs as a result of the change.
Scherer said that in the four years that the social studies requirement is phased out, attrition would trim the staff, and former geography teachers likely would move toward teaching other areas of social studies.
The board of education will take up the issue at its next regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.