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Pennsylvania to test high school graduation in as little as 2 years

| Monday, June 7, 2010

Madeline Scanlon never bought into the idea of high school. As a freshman, the Moon teenager started taking college classes. She will graduate Friday after just three years of high school.

"College leads you to where you're going in life, but high school just leads you to college. Why wait to get there?" said Scanlon, 17, who will attend the University of Pittsburgh this fall. "It's not for everyone, though. You really have to be dedicated to doing it."

Starting in fall 2012, Pennsylvania will become a testing ground for the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates allowing students to graduate from high school in as few as two years if they want to.

The state Department of Education is seeking school districts to participate. Student volunteers would earn high school diplomas in two years, using accelerated curriculum the state chooses.

Center President Marc Tucker said many students become bored in high school and want to move at a quicker pace or find challenges. He wants to speed up the four-year course to graduation and enable students to graduate when they're ready to tackle college-level work. Under the Pennsylvania School Code, students aren't required to take a certain number of courses to graduate; they must show they've learned certain information.

"This isn't a time-based diploma, it's a performance-based diploma," Tucker said.

Courtney Zelinsky, 16, of Plum received her diploma in three years.

"Why shouldn't students be allowed to move at their own pace?" said Zelinsky, who graduated Thursday from Plum High School. "Not allowing a child to work to their potential is punishing them."

Students who complete their diploma in two years and don't want to go to college can elect to return to high school and take advanced placement courses or take career and technical education courses, Tucker said.

Some educators aren't sure an accelerated approach will work.

"At 15, 16 years old, are these kids socially ready, cognitively ready or emotionally ready for college• I don't think so," said Mary Ann Rafoth, dean of the College of Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "Every year in high school, we're teaching them more factually, but also in terms of what they're expected to do skill-wise. I don't know how you do that all in two years. That's a lot of pressure on kids."

Avonworth High School, for example, does not allow students to graduate early, but they can participate in dual enrollment programs to earn college credit.

"If a kid plays their cards right, their senior year could be a stepping stone to how the rest of their life plays out," said Nicole Levis, a counselor at Avonworth.

Pennsylvania would be one of eight states participating in the trial. The center applied for $40 million from the government to pay for curriculums and teacher training. Without grants, the course work would cost districts $500 per participating student.

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