The D.C. State Board of Education is launching a task force in late August to develop recommendations for awarding high school credit with increased flexibility.
The proposal would move the District away from a system based solely on the age-old “Carnegie unit,” which grants credit according to seat time, in favor of a system that rewards how much a student knows or can do.
The task force will pick up on an effort that stalled last winter, when the board tabled a vote on proposed revisions to graduation requirements. Board members said they wanted to give the community more time to respond to the proposal, which came to the board for a vote before the 30-day public review period had expired.
The proposal, developed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, would have offered students multiple ways to earn credit starting this coming school year, including passing a state-approved test or participating in a “course equivalent,” such as an internship, community-service project, portfolio or performance that can be tied to the academic standards.
It also would have created a “state diploma” for students who pass the GED anytime after January 2014.
Many charter leaders and D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson have been strong supporters of increasing flexibility.
Proponents say students often need more or less time to demonstrate their understanding of a subject. And seat-time requirements make it difficult for students who drop out or fall behind to catch up and pursue a diploma, an increasingly important consideration as the District works to improve its graduation rate and bring back young people who have dropped out.
Some teachers and parents are concerned, though, that a shift to competency-based education could reduce course work to test preparation and lead students to rush through such courses as U.S. history or world literature, even though it could be their only exposure to the material.
This week, State Board of Education member Laura Wilson Phelan (Ward 1) outlined a public process for exploring the move to credit flexibility more systematically, with a goal of bringing proposed regulations back to the board for a vote by January, in time for it to be implemented in the next school year.
The citywide task force will be charged with recommending alternative ways to earn credit. It is expected to consider benefits, disadvantages and possible unintended consequences of offering credit flexibility. It will consider the types of students it could help and whether there are some subjects that would be better suited to a more traditional approach.
It is also expected to look outside the District at states or school districts that are already awarding credit for different routes to graduation.
The proposal to offer a state diploma to those who pass the GED is not expected to be included as part of this proposal, but it is being reviewed separately by the board.
The task force will meet twice monthly between late August and November, and it is scheduled to make its recommendations to the OSSE in late November.
The task force will include representatives from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education; D.C. Public Schools; the D.C. Public Charter School Board; OSSE; the D.C. Council Committee on Education; the Washington Teachers’ Union; high school students; the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators; and representatives from various schools.
Phelan said that three of the meetings will be open for public comment.
The D.C. Public Charter School Board this spring conditionally approved an alternative high school run by Goodwill Excel Center that plans to offer a competency-based approach to students who are 16 and older.
Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said in a statement after the vote that the board plans to work closely with the State Board of Education to update the graduation requirements in time for the new school to open.