Arizona Academic Scholars, a designation students can earn for taking more classes than required, may not be rigorous enough after graduation standards increase, Gear Up Coordinator Kristi Ford told the Payson Unified School District board last week.
Plus, Ford worried the reduced number of class periods will force kids to choose between taking vocational classes and becoming college-ready.
“What’s our definition of rigor?” Ford asked members. The scholars program no longer suffices, she added.
added. Any recognition program, “needs to be meaningful and it needs to be serious.”
She urged the board to set up a committee to develop a new rigor recognition program, and also to discuss how students can take both vocational classes and those needed for college, like foreign language.
The board made no decision, but is expected to discuss the proposition at an upcoming goal-setting meeting. Ford said she hopes to have a plan by Christmas, ready to implement for the following school year.
Gear Up is a multi-year grant that pays for Ford to follow a group of students from seventh-grade to senior year in high school. The goal is to increase college attendance.
Ford’s original seventh-graders are set to enter freshman year this year, and she will transition from the middle school to the high school.
Arizona Academic Scholars is an initiative of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition and the Arizona Board of Education. The program outlines a series of courses students take beyond the basic graduation requirements, in which they must earn at least a “C.”
The idea is to push average students to take more difficult courses even if they can’t earn top grades.
Ford said the program will not only lack rigor once the graduation requirements increase, but will also lack a reward for students.
“A kid thinks the word relevance means, ‘What’s in it for me?’” she said.
Right now, students receive a medallion when they graduate, she added. “No money, no nothing.”
Academic scholar requirements will increase starting for 2013 graduates, but the change is minimal. For instance, the program used to require math and science credits beyond the base needed to graduate, along with a foreign language.
Arizona does not require students to take any foreign language to graduate, however, Ford said colleges require the credits for entry.
Beginning with the class of 2013, an academic scholars student only needs to take two foreign language credits and an extra art or vocational class beyond regular requirements to achieve scholar status. With four years of math and English, and three of science soon to be required to graduate, the scholars program requires little more than that.
Also next year at Payson High School, students will only have six class periods, down from eight. Ford said kids won’t have enough time to take both required classes for college along with vocational programs. Fewer teachers will limit the number of classes offered.
For instance, freshmen won’t be able to take a foreign language. “What’s that going to do to NAVIT (Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology)?” Ford asked.
“Not everybody goes to college,” said school board member Rory Huff. “I don’t want us to gear our whole program to college because only 20 percent are going.”
Ford said that new, hour-long class periods will help kids academically, and that the district can figure out a way to increase class offerings, by adding a zero hour, for instance.
“We’ll figure it out,” she said.