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College credits urged to boost high school graduation rates

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Schools may have to change the way they teach high-risk students in order to raise high school graduation rates and better prepare students for college.

That was the lesson an Indiana educator delivered Friday for Jefferson Community College’s EDGE professional development day. EDGE stands for Education Demonstrating Growth and Excellence and is a way for north country students to obtain transferable college credits in high school.

Janet Boyle, assistant director of the University of Indiana Center for Excellence in Leadership Learning, discussed how Indiana’s mandatory dual credits — like JCC’s EDGE courses — and an emphasis on creating a college culture is leading to better graduation rates.

While New York does not demand all high schools offer courses bearing college credit, Alexandria Central EDGE teacher and JCC adjunct professor Molly C. Reilly said advanced courses put college in the forefront of students’ minds.

“I think concurrent enrollment improves the students’ transition to college,” she said. “I think they learn skills in a more comprehensive way.”

College readiness is the latest item on which the Board of Regents wants schools to focus.

Mrs. Reilly said the majority of students who take EDGE courses are already college-bound, high-achieving students. However, students who have a high risk of dropping out of high school sometimes change their minds after taking these classes.

“I had a kid who was a first generation (college student) coming from extreme poverty,” she said. “That kid just graduated from law school and is a D.C. lawyer. That’s what the EDGE program can do.”

Mrs. Boyle said students from poor, rural areas often do not see a point in graduating from college.

“We are finding that the high dropout rates are in rural areas,” she said. “There’s not much to do and they think, ‘Why should I go to school?’”

These same problems are echoed in the north country, where high school graduation rates run from 61 percent to 93 percent. Alexandria Central itself is the seventh poorest district in the state, according to Mrs. Reilly.

However, Mrs. Boyle said, more than 60 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary degree by 2025.

To boost these rates and get students ready to become productive citizens, Indiana emphasized a 90-25-90 bar: aim for 90 percent of students to pass the state exams, 25 percent to take and pass an Advanced Placement course and 90 percent to graduate.

Some high schools have offered a separate school for students in poverty so they can be exposed to college-level courses.

“There is research out there that if you offer a credit-bearing opportunity in high school, there might be a tendency to see more value in (college) and stick it out,” Mrs. Boyle said.

Mrs. Reilly said she does not see her district going through as extreme measures to offer dual credits to everyone, but she said she would love to be a part of something similar.

“I was inspired,” she said. “I thought the legislation to encourage dual degrees is what I’d like to see in New York state.”

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