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Connecticut Participating In Educational Pilot Program For High School Students

MARK SPENCER

February 18, 2010

Connecticut will join seven other states in a voluntary pilot program that could eventually allow some high school students to graduate after their sophomore year and attend community college.

The program, expected to begin in at least 10 state high schools in the 2011-12 academic year, is based on what is called the board examination system, which has been used for years in high-performing countries such as Australia, Denmark, England, France, Germany and Singapore.

In the United States, the system is being championed by the nonprofit National Center on Education and the Economy, which announced the program Wednesday. Its key components are detailed course syllabuses giving students a clear understanding of what they need to learn, followed by high-quality tests that are professionally scored, said Marc Tucker, president of the center.

He said courses offered by the program would better prepare all students for college either two-year or four-year programs. Another major goal would be to reduce the number of students who now must take remedial courses once they begin college. Nearly half of the students in community colleges nationwide take one or more remedial courses before they can take credit-level courses, according to the National Center on Education and the Economy.

The other participating states are Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Many details of the program remain to be developed. State officials said they want to choose a representative sample of schools from urban, suburban and rural districts.

Local superintendents who were briefed about the program in late January were enthusiastic, said Barbara Beadin, associate commissioner for assessment, research and technology at the state Department of Education.

Five core courses will be developed nationally and introduced gradually in the schools. Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said schools in Connecticut will start with one course for grades 9 and 10 and one course for grades 11 and 12.

He said it would take three years before enough courses are offered in Connecticut for sophomores to have the opportunity to go straight to a community college. The state Department of Education also is investigating whether legislation is needed to allow sophomores to earn a diploma, now based on accumulated credits.

"It's a little more complicated than it appears, but you have to start somewhere," Murphy said.

Sophomores who do not pass a test will have a road map of areas they need to improve in and can take the test again at the end of each successive year. Those who pass the test also can choose to remain in high school, participating in activities and working toward admission to a selective admission college.

Murphy said the state will talk to community colleges about possibly offering classes at participating high schools.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1.5 million to the National Center on Education and the Economy to develop the program. Tucker said school districts will likely get federal money and additional private donations to help pay for the program.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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