State policies add rigor and choice for high school seniors; goals include ensuring postsecondary success and reducing cost of college

The problem of too little academic rigor and diminished student focus in the final year of high school is so common that it has a familiar name — the “senior slide.” But North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll has a much different vision for the 12th grade. He believes students, teachers, school administrators and state lawmakers should all look for ways to “leverage” the senior year and make it a springboard for success in college or the workforce.

For some students, that might mean taking more Advanced Placement courses and earning college credit for them. For others, it could require “catching up” to peers and getting better prepared for college through extra work in core subjects such as math and English. Still others might use the senior year to earn industry-recognized certification in a career field of interest to them.

But for all young people, it would mean a senior year that is more demanding and a school curriculum that offers more opportunities.
“After we [North Dakota] put in our system of rigor and rewards with more, and tougher, required courses, we saw a remarkable 14 percent increase in the number of high-performing students,” says Flakoll, who is also a higher-education administrator. “When we challenge students, they respond positively.”
And there is a lot at stake for these high school seniors.
More and more jobs are requiring some form of postsecondary education, and the cost of this education is rising. According to The Institute of College Access & Success, well over half of college graduates in the Midwest had student debt in 2011, and on average, each owed more than $25,000.
A more rigorous senior year not only eases the transition for students out of high school (to college or a career); it also can shorten their time to college graduation, reduce their tuition expenses, and get them into the workforce more quickly — by allowing them to earn college credit while in high school and/or by eliminating the need for remedial college coursework.
“I want to see 20 percent of [high school] seniors have one semester’s worth of college credit under their belt by the time they leave,” Flakoll says, “and it certainly can be done.”
That goal of increasing student access to college courses and credit is part of his home state’s newLeveraging the Senior Year program
For students who have mastered their high school coursework, more AP classes and dual enrollment programs are now being made available. (Dual enrollment allows high school students to enroll in college courses.)
Along with increasing the number of instructors who are trained to teach AP classes, more state funding is being used to cover students’ online AP course expenses and to offset the cost of AP exams.
Students who take advantage of these new opportunities can graduate from college more quickly and with less debt, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler told lawmakers during a presentation at the 2015 Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting.
But there also is a second part of North Dakota’s new strategy — providing more help for struggling high school students. High school juniors who need remedial math and English instruction are identified and, during their senior year, given extra assistance.
By providing this help at the high school level, North Dakota hopes to reduce the need for intervention later on. Right now, 40 percent of first-year students in North Dakota’s university system require remedial coursework in math, English or both.
Bringing college to high school
During another presentation to legislators at the 2015 MLC Annual Meeting, Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States, shared findings from an ECS report on state policies that promote career and college readiness.
One idea is to align requirements for high school graduation with those for admission into public colleges and universities. This policy ensures that students leave a state’s K-12 education system with the necessary courses and credit hours to begin college.
According to the ECS study, “Blueprint for College Readiness,” Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota and Wisconsin were four of only six U.S. states to have completely aligned graduation and admission requirements as of 2014.
That same report also emphasizes the importance of increasing high school students’ access to college-level coursework — through Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate programs or dual enrollment, for example.
At the time of the ECS report, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin were among 25 U.S. states with varying requirements for schools to provide this type of college-level coursework. 
In Iowa, districts must make AP courses available either through direct instruction on-site, collaboration with another school district, or by using a university-led, online academy.
School districts in Ohio must provide students with the opportunity to participate in some kind of “advanced standing program.”
One option is to offer “Early College High Schools,” which combine elements of high school and the first several years of college. In grades nine and 10, students take college-preparatory classes; in grades 11 and 12, they take college-level classes. Tuition at most Early College High Schools is free, thus lowering the overall cost of a student’s college education.
According to Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit group that develops college and career readiness policies, 30 percent of students in an early-college program earn an associate’s degree or other postsecondary credential while in high school.
Some states, meanwhile, are encouraging students to take greater advantage of opportunities in career and technical education, or CTE.
Under Kansas’ Excel in CTE Initiative, high school students who pursue a credential in occupations that are determined to be in high demand (such as nursing or pipefitting) are able to apply for free tuition at any of the state’s two-year postsecondary schools. The initiative also provides districts a $1,000 incentive for each high school student who graduates from that district with an industry-recognized credential.
Opportunities like these are becoming increasingly valuable due to the rising cost of college. And through new laws and investments, states are trying to expand the reach of their programs. But Anderson said too many students are unfamiliar with these options while in high school, a reminder that states and school districts must do a better job of raising awareness.
“If we could survey a large number of college sophomores and juniors, we’d hear, ‘I really wish I would’ve known I could’ve had 20 or 30 credit hours from AP courses or dual enrollment during high school,’” Anderson said.

Defining college and career readiness
What exactly is “college and career readiness”? Indiana’s definition reads like this: “An individual has the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed in postsecondary education and economically viable career opportunities.”
With that definition in mind, when Indiana education leaders set new academic standards for English, language arts and mathematics in 2014, they had a clear goal — ensure that high school students are ready to go directly into the workplace or college without the need for remediation.
A similar objective is behind a proposal to change Indiana’s high school diploma requirements. 
Right now, Indiana offers students the option of earning one of four different diploma types: General, Core 40, Core 40 with Academic Honors or Core 40 with Technical Honors. A more rigorous, three-tier system is now under consideration: Workforce Ready, College & Career Ready, and Indiana Honors. 
Workforce Ready would replace the state’s existing “general” diploma option, while College & CareerReady and Indiana Honors would supplant the state’s Core 40 and Core 40 with Honors diplomas.
Students pursuing a Workforce Ready diploma would have to earn 40 academic credits and do one of the following: obtain an industry-recognized certification, complete a project-based capstone/work-based learning experience, or earn three college credits.
The other diploma options would increase the number of required credit hours, establish a more rigorous math program, and introduce two new mandatory courses: one on personal financial responsibility and another on college and career preparation.
By revising Indiana’s diploma system, policymakers hope to better ensure that a high school education aligns with the needs of postsecondary institutions and employers.
Michigan lawmakers had the same idea in 2006 when they passed a new set of rigorous statewide graduation requirements known as the Michigan Merit Curriculum. Before this curriculum was enacted, the only high school graduation requirement was a semester of civics. Under the new standards, students are required to earn credits by demonstrating proficiency in core subjects.
These standards reflect Michigan’s definition of career and college readiness: “Student preparation that is adequate to allow a student to pass first-year technical training and first-year college courses in core areas without remediation.”
Part of that preparation is ensuring that students are being challenged — not “sliding” — during their senior year.


Review of recent state actions to give students a head start on postsecondary success


In August, Illinois lawmakers approved a measure (HB 3428) requiring all public colleges and universities in the state to award course credit to students with Advanced Placement exam scores of 3 or higher. According to the College Board, the not-for-profit association of educational institutions that administers the AP program, six other Midwestern states also have this policy in place: Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
As a result of legislation passed in 2014 (HB 1213), Indiana’s education and business leaders have proposed revisions to the state’s current diploma system. The changes would align with a more rigorous high school curriculum and place a greater emphasis on college and career readiness. Under this new diploma system, students would choose from one of three high school graduation paths: Workforce Ready, College & Career Ready, and Indiana Honors. If adopted, the changes would take effect with the class of 2022.
Under a bill passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2008 (HF 2679), all school districts in the state must offer AP courses in one of three ways: on-site at the high school, through a partnership with another district, or by using the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy. First established in 2001, this academy (run by the University of Iowa) now offers 13 AP courses; a total of 355 students were enrolled during the 2014-2015 school year.
Under a 2012 Kansas law (SB 155), high school students receive free college tuition for taking approved courses in career and technical education. These classes are offered by technical and community colleges. Local school districts receive a transportation reimbursement (for student travel to college campus) and incentive payments for students who graduate from high school with an industry-recognized credential in high-need occupations. For the 2014-2015 school year, 77,204 college credit hours were generated through Kansas’ Excel in CTE Initiative.
In the state’s most recent education budget, Michigan legislators deepened their commitment to dual enrollment, which gives students the chance to earn college credits while in high school. HB 4115 includes $10 million for career and technical education and early/middle college programs. These programs allow students to get a high school diploma while taking part in apprenticeship programs or earning an associate’s degree, technical certification or up to 60 transferable college credits. Schools also can receive dual-enrollment incentive payments.
Thirty years ago, Minnesota became the first U.S. state to provide funding for high school juniors and seniors to take college-level courses. The number of students taking these courses has doubled over the past 10 years, and one program in particular has grown in popularity: College in the Schools. This concurrent enrollment program allows students to take college-level classes at their own high schools. This year, legislators appropriated an additional $4 million a year to expand College in the Schools.
Nebraska legislators passed a bill in 2013 (LB 262) that enables the uniform sharing of student data among school districts, educational service units, learning communities and the state Department of Education. According to the Education Commission of the States, establishing this type of “data pipeline” is an important building block in improving college and career readiness. This shared information can serve as an early warning system for students who fall behind and can be used to evaluate how well schools are preparing young people for postsecondary success.
In 2015, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed bills to support the state’s new Leveraging the Senior Year program, a two-pronged strategy to make sure all students grow academically during their final year in high school. Lawmakers increased funding to expand student access to Advanced Placement courses and to support programs that provide extra instructional help for seniors who are not on track (academically) to take credit-bearing courses during their first year of college.
Ohio’s College Credit Plus program established by the Legislature in 2014 
(HB 487), began this school year. The law requires each of the state’s public high schools to partner with at least one college. Through this partnership, the high school must provide students with a “model course pathway” in which they can earn either 15 or 30 hours of college credit. The program is free to participating high school students who take courses via a public college.
In 2014, the South Dakota Legislature passed a bill (SB 182) extending eligibility for dual enrollment to ninth-graders. (Under dual enrollment, students earn high school and college credit simultaneously). That same year, legislators provided the necessary state funding to make dual credit courses available at a reduced rate for high school juniors and seniors ($40 per credit hour). During the first year of the Dual Credit High School program, 39 school districts in South Dakota had at least one quarter of their juniors and seniors complete courses.
This year, the Wisconsin Legislature established new grant program to help students with disabilities transition out of high school. Local school districts will be rewarded for each student with an individualized education program (IEP) who is competitively employed or taking part in a postsecondary or training program within one year of graduation. The new grant program is part of the state’s Better Bottom Line initiative.


Stateline Midwest: December 20152.03 MB