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Senate Ed. panel approves early graduation pilot project

Senate Ed. panel approves early graduation pilot project

Dustin Hurst
March 2, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 2, 2010

Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, borrowed a line from Boise State University football coach Chris Peterson when presenting to the Senate Education Committee about his plan to allow high school students to graduate early from high school and receive state-funded scholarships by doing so.  Durst said that the plan would "make the best version of all of our students" by maximizing "learning time" in classrooms.

Durst teamed with Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, to present committee members with the Mastery Advancement Pilot Project (MAPP), a radical plan to alter the way public education is delivered in the state.  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 full 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.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, questioned Durst and Thayn about the end-of-course-assessments, asking how the pair of lawmakers plan to develop and implement those tests.  Thayn said he knows of two possible sources, one being tests already utilized by teachers and the other being tests developed by textbook publishers.  He noted, however, that MAPP doesn't seek to set statewide policy, but rather gives each district participating in the program the flexibility to develop its programs and assessments.

Superintendent Tom Luna was present at the hearing, but did not directly endorse MAPP.  Luna said the plan is moving in the same direction as the Idaho Department of Education and those on his staff would work hard to ensure that all end-of-course assessments would be valid and standardized across the state.

"This is just a step towards what we have been working toward the last couple of years," said Luna.

Before the vote, Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, expressed his hesitance to approve the program, which he said is too open-ended.

"I am not in a frame of mind to let an agency design a program because we left the door wide open," said Schroeder.  He added that he feels in the current economic situation, the state doesn't have money to throw away on untested and unproven programs.

Not all committee members doubted MAPP's potential.  Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said his senior year was a "pretty good babysitting session" of wasted time and that he feels this program would help students not waste time in school because of seat time requirements.

"This will put Idaho on the forefront of education in the nation," said Mortimer.

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said he is "excited" to see the program implemented and to monitor the results.  He also said the program was advantageous over other pieces of legislation because it gives the state the opportunity to save money.  Fulcher urged his fellow Senators to give the program an opportunity to prove itself.

Committee members voted 7-1 to pass the plan and send it to the full Senate.  The lone dissenting vote was cast by Schroeder.

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