Freshmen to face new graduation demands

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The academic workload is increasing throughout the state for theincoming freshman class as higher graduation requirements mandatedby the Mississippi Department of Education go into effect thisyear.

Students’ choices in filling out their high school scheduleswill be less flexible with the increased requirements, which nowinclude four sciences and four social studies. The elective courserequirement has fallen from six to 4.5.

Lincoln County School District officials discussed the changeswhile approving new student handbooks during Monday’s board oftrustees meeting.

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The new graduation requirements will only affect incomingfreshman who will graduate in 2012. Current sophomores, juniors andseniors will continue their education under the previousaccreditation standards.

Assistant Superintendent Letha Presley speculated the newrequirements will make it harder for students to earn a diploma.The district, which had a 17.9 percent dropout rate for 2007, isgearing up to meet the academic challenge by using availableresources.

“I don’t see a more rigorous curriculum decreasing the dropoutrate,” she said. “I see it maybe going up.”

Presley said the new requirements will also make academic lifemore difficult for the district’s special education students, whohave to meet the same requirements as other students if they are toachieve a standard diploma.

“I’m concerned that we won’t have as many who are able to obtaina regular diploma as we have had in the past,” she said.

Presley said the new science requirements, particularly whencoupled with the unchanged requirement for four math credits, willmake academic life harder on the class of 2012.

Presley said the district will have tutors available at each ofits four schools to help students with the harder courses, and thedistrict will increase its budget for hiring tutors in thefuture.

The district’s yearly visit by a team of education consultantswill include training for regular and special education teachers,and guidance counselors, to make them aware of the increaseddemands on students and help them concoct an agreeableschedule.

“The counselors are going to have to really look at individualstudents’ needs and adjust accordingly,” she said. “They may haveto space some of those courses out to try to keep the child fromgetting so frustrated that they just want to give up.”

The district will not immediately need new personnel to teachthe more advanced courses, Presley said. Any required course, ornew requirement mandated in the future, not available at a districtschool would be taught through the computer- and video-assisteddistance learning technology, which the district has used withsuccess, she said.

Students’ lessened ability to control their own schedules underthe new graduation requirements will eventually result in decreasedenrollment in some elective courses, Presley said.

Despite the added difficulty of the increased graduationrequirements, they will not automatically translate into academicpandemonium, Presley said. The district has shown improvement inrecent years – with a 5.7 percent increase in graduation rates lastyear – and is working with several programs, like MississippiScholars, to improve students’ academic prowess.

In the Brookhaven School District, Superintendent Lea Barrettsaid educators are ready for the new requirements, saying she doesnot foresee an impact on graduation rates.

“I think we’re doing a better job of preparing children at thelower grades,” she said. “As we go through that preparation, Ithink our children are coming into high school well prepared forthose graduation requirements.”