Students in Idaho schools are one step closer to being able to graduate early and earn scholarships for doing so. The House Education Committee passed a plan that will help the state save money and will encourage students to become more involved in their own education, according to the bill's sponsors.
Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, and Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, teamed up to present the bill to the committee Monday. The pair of lawmakers said the bill would help students become more actively engaged and allow schools to be more flexible in their class offerings. Under the proposed legislation students would be allowed, starting as early as kindergarten, to test out of classes and grade levels based on their own work and studies. Students in grades K-6 would face skill-based tests for advancement, while students in grades 7-12 would face knowledge-based assessments.
After completing exams, students would be allowed to move forward and potentially graduate high school early. If a student graduates early, under the new plan, he or she would receive a state-funded scholarship to be used to in Idaho colleges and universities. The scholarships would not pay for the full tuition for students, but Durst believes the money would help keep talented student in Idaho for their college education. The funds to pay for the scholarship would come from the savings of not having that student in school. Students participating in the program could graduate up to three years early from high school.
The state and school districts would ultimately save money by not having the student in attendance for their last few years of formal education, though Thayn and Durst did not mention if any teachers would be laid off as a result of the proposal.
Durst said the so-called "Mastery Advancement Pilot Program" (MAPP) would help keep the interest of talented students who often become bored with their classes because of the perceived lack of challenges. He added that the changes will "make the whole system better."
Many legislators thanked the two men for their creativity, but some expressed concern over the pace of learning under MAPP. Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, said she is worried that students may be able to accelerate their learning, but won't be able to speed up their maturation process. "Sometimes faster isn't always better," said Chavez.
Thayn countered Chavez, saying that one way he tested the maturity of his children was to give them responsibilities and monitor their progress. He added that students with more responsibility will mature as they become more invested in their education.
A representative for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said Luna is supportive of the plan, though he is concerned with the cost of developing the benchmark exams.
The plan was passed with only one dissenting vote from Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, and will now move to the House floor for a vote. Thayn told IdahoReporter.com he expected the plan to pass through the committee and House, though he was surprised with the lack of opposition to the proposal. He expects the program to face much more scrutiny should it move to the Senate.