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Officials: Gainesville schools still rigorous

Fewer credits to graduate not expected to impact quality of education

POSTED: May 5, 2014 12:12 a.m.

When Gainesville school officials approved decreasing the number of credits needed to graduate from 24 to the state-mandated 23 in April, it wasn’t without conversation.

Some saw it as a way to ensure more students can graduate within that four-year time period, while others suggested it was a way of decreasing academic expectations.

But school officials now want to help people understand the change isn’t in what type of classes are being offered, but rather in how credit is awarded.

“We wanted to give the board the perspective and examples of different students, in terms of the number of credits they take,” Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “And just illustrate that it’s not the number of credits; it’s the courses that they’re taking and the quality and the rigor in the courses.”

After looking at the profiles of students expected to graduate this year, school officials found most students had an average of 27.5 credits earned, well over the previously required 24 credits. Sarah Bell, director of standards and assessment, plans to present those findings at tonight’s work session in a report designed to better explain how decreasing the number of credits doesn’t change what courses are required, or the difficulty level of those courses.

“The quality of the courses is what determines the rigor,” Bell said, referring to the academic difficulty.

The report comes after the Board of Education moved to bring down the number of credits needed to graduate, from 24 to 23.

Georgia only requires 23 credits to graduate. And just a couple of years ago, Gainesville required 28 credits.

“Not only does the state set a minimum number of credits, they also set a minimum number of credits in each content area and then require specific classes to be taken as well,” Bell said. “We have not taken away any of those.”

For example, the state requires a full credit of both U.S. history and world history, while only requiring a half-credit for economics and American citizenship and government.

“Traditionally at Gainesville High School, those courses have been taught as a full credit because they’re taught on the block (schedule),” Bell said. “Our feedback from teachers is that their students need that amount of time to be able to have access to the entire curriculum and be successful with it.

Students transferring into the system or taking the class online or through dual-enrollment, however, created a problem since they were taught just a half credit.

Those students still had the required courses, but did not meet the school’s required minimum credits.

“This is not a reduction of expectation,” Bell said with emphasis. “It is kind of acknowledgement that there are a lot of different ways to get across the stage these days.”

Along with affecting transfer students, students learning English are at a disadvantage when their lack of language skills requires them to take support classes on top of the required courses. For example, a student taking math I would simultaneously take a separate support class.

“For the majority of parents and grandparents who went through a very traditional high school experience, it’s all changed,” Bell said. “It’s so very different now, and so we’ve got to look at our policies and make sure that they allow as much flexibility as possible.”

School officials caution that high academic expectations differ for each student. Bell used the example of one student not being able to keep up with a physics class but being successful in a drafting class. Likewise, a student who succeeds in physics may not do well in drafting.

It’s ultimately about finding flexibility in helping students earn their diploma while still meeting state requirements.

“A challenging level for one student may not be the same course sequence but still challenging nonetheless,” Bell said. “The need for us to really look at how customization has played into all of this and made all of this necessary ... when I was in high school, if I wanted to customize my music I’d have to sit by the radio and wait for the song I wanted to come on and press the cassette (button). Now we can customize in the blink of an eye, and that’s what our students expect us to be able to do.

“So, if our students need a customized path to graduation, we have to figure out a way to provide it.”

Tonight’s work session is 6 p.m. at Gainesville’s main office, 508 Oak St., in Gainesville.


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