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Bethel Park School District weighs relaxing of credit requirements

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The Bethel Park School District is considering whether relaxing its graduation requirements might free up more time for students to take electives, get tutoring or pursue jobs and internships.

The school board's curriculum committee will meet on Feb. 6 to discuss reducing the number of credits that high school students need to graduate. The number has been set at 27 credits since about 2007.

“We've had kids who book a class instead of their lunch period, kids who want to do an internship or work-experience program and couldn't, and we've had to do some creative scheduling for remediation for PSSA tests,” said Janet O'Rourke, director of secondary education.

She said vocational students also are having a hard time juggling their classes at Steel Center in Jefferson Hills with the rest of the graduation requirements.

Bethel Park students take at least 6 34 credits per year scheduled across a nine-period day, with some science lab sessions taking up two periods.

Each class is worth between 14 and 2 credits, with most worth 1 credit. The Vo-tech program at Steel Center is worth 4.5 credits.

The implementation of Keystone Exams — which test students' proficiency in different subject areas and require remediation if a student doesn't pass — is likely to add even more pressure, because the remediation process is stricter than under the current PSSA testing system, O'Rourke said.

She said that, if implemented, the credit reduction would be phased in starting when the current seventh- or eighth-grade students reach high school. Before that can happen, the curriculum committee, teachers and district officials will weigh what students' schedules would look like with different credit requirements.

Reducing the credit requirement could have the gradual effect of reducing the number of students in certain classes. If students no longer are required to take the additional credits in upper-level math and science courses, fewer may elect to take them, district spokeswoman Vicki Flotta said.

That could lead to gradual reduction in teachers' workloads, or even in the number of teachers at the high school, she said.

Bethel Park Federation of Teachers president Diann Smith said the teachers union opposes reducing the graduation requirements, and she criticized the school board's Jan. 22 approval of the course selection guide for 2013-14 because it doubled the credit value of phys ed classes from 14 credit per semester to 12 credit per semester.

O'Rourke said the change was made to the phys ed courses — the only courses in the district worth just 14 credit — to make their value consistent with other one-semester classes. Students still will require one credit of phys ed to graduate, so future students could meet that requirement faster, O'Rourke said.

It's hard to compare credit requirements to those in neighboring districts. In Upper St. Clair School District, most yearlong classes equal two credits, and students must have 45 credits to graduate.

In Mt. Lebanon, daily classes are worth 1 credit per semester; four-day classes are worth 0.8 credit, and three-day courses, 0.6 credit. The class of 2014 must have 42.8 credits to graduate.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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