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Posted at 04:48 PM ET, 02/17/2013

More high school may be bad for this student

Is Laura Linder’s son Chris being pushed out of Thomas Stone High School?

It seems that way. Charles County school officials did not honor several credits the transfer student earned in Yuba City, Calif., where he was a 12th-grader. He is 18, but Maryland says he is still in 10th grade. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has difficulty with math and science. But he does not qualify for full learning disability services.

Linder says Charles County Schools Superintendent James Richmond and other officials have suggested that Chris go back to California. That sounds harsh, but consider the context. Even smart educators like Richmond are at the mercy of a national movement to raise academic standards and graduation rates. The effort contradicts itself and is often at odds with educators’ instincts and students’ circumstances. Chris is a prime example.

Linder and her son moved to Waldorf last summer. Neither anticipated that the move would threaten his desire to get a high school diploma. He had fallen far behind in California when, Linder says, he was hospitalized four times for having suicidal thoughts. He also spent two months in juvenile hall for graffiti violations.

Linder got him into a Yuba City continuation school, where he could work at his own pace. He completed his junior year in June with a 3.56 grade point average. “After years of struggling with his disability and failing school, my son was going to be a senior!” she said.

Then Maryland rules intervened.

Chris couldn’t get credit for some of his California courses. Charles County schools spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson said required Maryland courses can also add to a transfer student’s workload. She said no county school official remembers telling any parent that a student should go back to another state.

Charles County has a self-paced program, but Linder says she can’t afford it. It would have been free had Chris qualified as a learning-disabled student for an individualized education plan, but school officials said his above-average test scores ruled that out.

Linder says Chris worked hard during his first two months at Stone, then lost heart when he was denied 12th-grade status. Other sophomores teased him about his age. He cut class. His first-term report card showed an F in geometry, a D in government and Cs in biology and Spanish.

Charles County officials should have tried harder to get Chris more credits and into a self-paced program. But they would have had to take heat for it. Critics like me have long complained of standards being ignored so that recalcitrant students can slide through. D.C. teachers have described to me understandable efforts to invent credits for students who would prefer water-boarding to spending another minute in high school.

Another solution is credit recovery. Students retake courses they have flunked by filling in worksheets or completing computerized lessons, with teachers as guides. Often it takes just a few weeks — in some cases days — to pass courses they took months to fail.

Chris’s self-paced work in Yuba City was like that. His mother says he learned more efficiently without teasing classmates and impatient instructors. But many educators are suspicious of such shortcuts. Washington area administrators, with good reason, do not want to rely on them too much.

Chris just withdrew from Stone. He is getting a GED and enrolling in community college. That might be better for him than two more years as the old man in every class. Such students may be more reachable after they drop out. Let me know what you think on my blog at washingtonpost.com/class-struggle. I don’t see the point in shoving every last ounce of high school down kids’ throats when they will spit it out just as fast.

By  |  04:48 PM ET, 02/17/2013

 
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