Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
By William Kincaid
Credit flex welcomes diversified learning
  A new state law requiring school districts to create a credit flexibility plan to allow high school students alternative ways of earning credit - including testing out of classes, independent study and internships - becomes effective next school year.
"We're going to get into the notion that people can get education in many different settings," Andy Smith, superintendent of the Mercer County Educational Service Center, said.
In addition to completing traditional courses, students will have the option of testing out of classes by demonstrating mastery of a subject. Students also may pursue educational options, such as distance learning, educational travel, independent study, internships, tutorial programs, community service and other possibilities.
Traveling to Spain or studying drama by one's self are examples of creative methods students could utilize to earn credit toward graduation.
"I think the most important part of the plan is the student has to initiate it," Fort Recovery Principal Jeff Hobbs said, adding school officials first will approve or reject the student's idea.
According to Tom Rutan of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), local boards of education must adopt a credit flexibility policy. School officials then must make the policy known to both teachers and students, Smith said.
In Fort Recovery, it likely will be posted on the school's Web site, Hobbs said.
Credit flexibility policies must allow for credit in all courses - both core and non-core subject areas.
For example, if a student wanted to study theater or drama and the school did not offer a class, the student could arrange with a school administrator to develop a plan - such as attending plays or writing about a major playwright - and complete it before being evaluated by a faculty member. The student then could earn an elective credit.
"It could be anything ... it's really flexible," Smith said.
Another example could be a student interested in the American Revolution or Civil War. Through credit flexibility, he or she could set up an independent study or other project related to the wars, Smith said.
School officials would determine what credits could be earned or how a student could prove proficiency in a subject without taking a course. If a student's plan is rejected, he or she can appeal the decision through a school process, according to Rutan.
Current graduation requirements for upcoming freshman are: four units of English and math; three units of science and social studies; half a unit of health and physical education; and five electives. Also, students must receive instruction in economics and financial literacy and must complete at least two semesters of fine arts.
The number of credits taken through credit flexibility cannot be limited with an artificial or arbitrary cap, according to Rutan. Evaluations can take the form of either pass/fail or letter grade and should appear on transcripts and be incorporated in grade point averages like all other credits earned.
ODE says credit flexibility - included in Senate Bill 311 - is a way to tie high school curriculum into the 21st century expectations of postsecondary success.
All students will be eligible to participate in credit flexibility, whether it's a gifted student or a student at risk of dropping out, ODE says.
"I think it's a good idea," Smith said about credit flexibility, including internship possibilities. "It may lead a student into a career choice."
Like Smith, Hobbs also believes credit flexibility is a good option.
However, at a recent Mercer County principals meeting, Hobbs said one local administrator had reservations, thinking it could be a way for students to beat the system or skip a particular class or teacher.
St. Henry schools Superintendent Rod Moorman recently said at a school board meeting that he thought the initial idea was likely well-founded, but he fears students might take advantage of the system to avoid taking classes with certain teachers.
Frank Griesdorn, high school principal at St. Henry, said he's not sure how much interest there will be locally. Some ideas students may have could work, others may not, such as visits to other countries to earn language credits, he said.
"This could be real messy," he added.
According to Rutan, it is not the intent of credit flexibility to provide an escape for students.
"It's got to be a legitimate exercise," Smith said. "If it's far too easy, the flood gates will open."
Smith and Fort Recovery Superintendent Pat Niekamp said they think participation will start with a low number of students.
"Kids generally don't want to be different," Smith said, adding that only those with a strong interest in subjects not offered are likely to commit.
"I think what's going to happen is it's going to start small," Niekamp said, explaining that credit flexibility will be a significant change to the education process.
For information or questions about credit flexibility, contact Rutan at the ODE's Center for Curriculum and Assessment at 614-728-1997 or by e-mail at tom.rutan@ode.state.oh.us.
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