A national educational research group is looking for several Connecticut school systems to try a new rigorous exam system adapted from those used in many other countries around the world.
Students would have the option to take the culminating exams as early as 10th grade, graduate from high school early and join the workforce or go to a two-year college. Or they could remain in high school, take a higher-level exam and go on a four-year college.
Marc S. Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, gave an overview of the Board Examination Systems Program to the State Board of Education last week. The program is used in more than 150 countries.
Tucker believes the system could improve America's education system. Last week, a study that compares student performance in 65 countries ranked American students in the middle of the pack, lagging behind such leaders as China, Finland and Singapore.
The goal of the pilot program is to prepare high school students for two- and four-year colleges and ensure they will succeed once they get there.
Tucker said research shows that most American students graduate from high school with an eighth-grade level of literacy, which sets them up for failure in college, where they are expected to have a literacy level expected of high school graduates. Such lack of preparation is reflected in Connecticut, where 60 percent of students in the Connecticut State University System and 80 percent of community college students must take remedial courses when they get to college.
The new exam system is designed to motivate students to take difficult courses by giving them first-class instruction and an opportunity to graduate early.
"This is a genuinely innovative new proposal that Connecticut should undertake," state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said.
The system is not designed for struggling students, but is intended to raise everyone's performance.
"It will both help improve the drop-out rate and improve performance at the upper end, too. It should take good students and make them into great students," Tucker said.
Unlike the current high school system, where students take a yearlong course before moving on to the next grade, the proposed system is less dependent on time and more on meeting standards.
"These are student-centered programs, so there is more emphasis on each and every student, monitoring them closely and challenging them in a way that they can see the results of their efforts," said Barbara Beaudin, associate education commissioner for the Division of Assessment, Research and Technology.
Students must pass end-of-course examinations based on international standards. Those who don't succeed on their first attempt at the exam would get targeted instruction in the areas they didn't understand, including summer school sessions.
"The systems are terrific," Beaudin said "A second component that really is attractive is that they have been successful in many countries around the world. Many of these countries have poor students and they're showing excellent performance."
Those who remain in high school for grades 11 and 12 would take rigorous courses designed to prepare students for competitive four-year colleges.
State education officials believe the program, developed by the University of Cambridge, could make a difference in Connecticut by raising achievement and lowering drop-out rates, particularly in poor, urban or rural school districts.
The state is looking for a representative sampling of Connecticut schools for the three-year pilot program, which would be offered to an average of 65 students in a particular school. Some schools have inquired about the project.
The catch is that the school system would have to pay $35,000 per year per grade level to cover the cost of materials, textbooks and testing.
Besides Connecticut, several other states will participate for a total of 40 to 50 schools nationwide, in the pilot program, Tucker said.
The center hopes to train teachers selected for the pilot program this spring and summer and launch the program for ninth-graders next fall. It would continue the following year with 10th-graders and the incoming class of ninth-graders, Beaudin said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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