After a lengthy debate on the potential merits and downfalls of the program, the Idaho House voted 61-7 in support of a pilot project that could allow high school students to graduate up to three years ahead of schedule. Students who take part in the program would also receive a scholarship for use at Idaho's public colleges of universities upon successful early graduation.
The plan from Reps. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Branden Durst, D-Boise, is designed, according to Thayn, to save money while simultaneously improving education. If implemented, the Mastery Advancement Pilot Project (MAPP) directs the Idaho Department of Education, in coordination with local school officials and teachers, to develop exams that could be used to measure students' aptitude. For grades K-6, tests would be skill based and students in grades 7-12 would face knowledge-based exams. If students complete the exams successfully, they would be allowed to move to the next grade (for K-6 students), or to a higher course level (for grades 7-12).
If students move through work and exams quickly and graduate early, they would receive a portion of what the state would have paid to educate them their senior year in the form of a scholarship. Thayn estimates the scholarship could be worth as much as $1,600 for each school year graduated early, though costs could vary from district to district. Students would only be allowed to graduate three years early.
If approved by the Senate, the legislation would only create a pilot project to include 21 school districts and three charter schools for participation. Following a six-year period of implementation, legislators would work with the education department to evaluate the program's effectiveness.
Thayn took his time on the House floor Monday to address concerns about the program. He said it's likely that no teachers would lose their jobs as a result of the plan because the bill would enable teachers with graduate degrees to teach concurrent enrollment classes at the high school, which Thayn believes would see higher numbers under the program. He also agreed with critics that not many people want to see 16-year-olds who have graduated high school to leave home and go to a university for further education. He said that MAPP encourages students to experience the unique social opportunities of high school - prom, sports, music programs - while allowing the student to be enrolled in college courses at the school.
Despite Thayn's assurances, the bill had detractors in the House. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, a former calculus teacher, said that the program could lead to rushed learning, which would be detrimental to education in the state. "The rapid pace might shortchange learning and understanding," said Ringo. She said the students are enabled by the system in place at schools to graduate early if they take initiative. Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d'Alene, echoed Ringo, saying that the end-of-course assessments might not be as thorough as they should be.
Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he is concerned with possible fluctuations in the cost of the program, but he would lend his support to the proposal as a pilot project to allow the state to measure results.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said that the state faces a serious problem in transitioning students from high school to college and the MAPP program is a good idea to aid in that process. He applauded Thayn and Durst for writing the legislation in a manner that would allow the Idaho Department of Education to have some flexibility in determining specific requirements for the program.
"We have got to pursue some innovation if we are going to solve the problems," said Burgoyne.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. Thayn told IdahoReporter.com he expects a tougher battle there, but he remains optimistic about MAPP's passage.