School board in city reduces credits for graduation

Goal is to encourage freshmen to stay in class

May 26, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board reduced last night the number of credits needed to graduate from high school in an attempt to keep more freshmen from dropping out.

"Our goal is to help students be productive and successful as they transition from the middle school area to the high school area," board member Brian D. Morris said.

Next year, students in the city's neighborhood high schools will need 21 credits to graduate, as opposed to 25. The change will benefit ninth-graders the most.

Freshmen will need fewer credits for promotion to the 10th grade. And those credits will be in core courses such as English, math, social studies and science -- the same subjects as state-mandated high-stakes tests that are required for graduation.

Many students enter ninth grade in the city's high schools with the reading and math skills of a third-, fourth- or fifth-grader, said Frank DeStefano, the school system's director of high schools. Consequently, they feel overwhelmed.

Under the new credit system, freshmen will take a full year of English and algebra -- double the time they spend in those classes now -- giving them more time to catch up, he said.

Focusing on core courses early will allow students more opportunities to take advanced coursework in their senior year.

Currently, "most seniors are only taking English 4 as a required course," DeStefano said, adding that seniors fill their days with throw-away courses to meet the current 25-credit graduation requirement.

"It's not just about sitting in seats and collecting credits anymore," DeStefano said. "But clearly it's about being ready to be successful on these high-stakes tests. If the required courses are rigorous and solid, that should be enough."

Some parent advocates said they worried that the change will have minimal impact if more isn't done to prepare students in the city's troubled middle schools.

"Better late than never," said Kevin A. Slayton, president of the system's Parent Community Advisory Board. "But so much damage has been done, will there ever be any real success for these kids? Only time will tell. They're already so far behind the eight ball."

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