Idaho students could be able to graduate up to three years early from high school and earn scholarship money from the state for doing so.

Rep. Stephen Thayn, a Republican from Emmett, and Rep. Branden Durst, a Democrat from Boise, are collaborating on an education bill that could radically alter the educational system in Idaho, save the state government thousands, and incentivize students to become more involved in their own education.  The two legislators want to create a pilot project that would allow students in selected districts to move through school at their own pace and move up grade levels in K-6 schools and test out of classes in grade 7-12 in order to graduate early.

The Mastery Advancement Pilot Program, as it is called in the bill, would create a six year long pilot project that would test the ability of the program to operate efficiently and meet its targeted goals.  Schools districts of every size from across the state would be allowed to apply to be part of the project and the Idaho State Department of Education would select twenty-one schools districts and three charter schools of various and proportional sizes to participate.  Charter schools would also be allowed to apply, though only three from across the state would be accepted into the program.

For grades K-6, the Dept. of Education would create skill-based benchmark tests to be administered by each school in the pilot districts.  Upon successful completion of a test, a student would receive full credit for the grade level they tested out of and would be allowed to move to the next grade.  There are no specific limits on how many grades a student could skip during the “benchmark” phase.

For grades 7-12, the Dept. of Education would develop knowledge-based end-of-course-assessments called “mastery exams.”  Each class or subject area would have an exam and students would be required to score at least eighty-five percent on the exams to receive completion credits.   Once students test out of a class, he or she would be allowed, under the supervision and direction of the district and school, to study other subjects required for graduation.  Through self-study, it is anticipated the student would have access to online high school courses and additional materials that would aid in the learning.  The students would need to complete all curriculums as required by the school district, either through testing out or in-class instruction, to graduate.

Students who graduate in less than the standard thirteen years (including Kindergarten), would receive a state-funded scholarship for use only in public colleges and universities in Idaho.  For each year the student graduated early he or she would receive money, in the form of a scholarship, which would equal thirty-five percent of the student’s district’s cost of educating the student.  Thayn estimated the state pays approximately $2,500 a semester to educate each student, so students would receive just under $1,000 in scholarship funds.

Students who would graduate early under the program would be allowed to remain in school and participate in concurrent enrollment programs, which allow students to take college courses and earn college credit in a high school setting.

Schools would ultimately save money by having fewer students that require all thirteen years of education.  It is not known at this time if any teachers would lose their jobs as a result of the reduced student levels.  For each semester students would graduate early, the state would pay the district about thirty-percent of the cost to educate the student, though the student would not be enrolled in school.

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