Bethel Park considers dropping grad requirements to 25 credits

Published Mar 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm (Updated Mar 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm)

Bethel Park School District administrators are recommending that the district lower the number of credits required for high school graduation from 27 to 25.

“This is a minimum,” said Janet O’Rourke, director of secondary education. “So many of our students take beyond the minimum, and they will continue to take more than the minimum.”

According to O’Rourke, 73 percent of the students in the current senior class are taking more than the minimum number of required credits – and about 300 students are forgoing lunch in order to fit extra courses into their schedule.

At a curriculum committee meeting, Tuesday, O’Rourke outlined the plan administrators would like the board to approve. If approved, the changes would go into effect with the freshman class entering the high school in fall 2013.

The proposed changes would reduce the number of math and science credits from four to three. Students would still be required to have four credits of English and social studies, two credits of fine/practical arts and a half a credit of health. The district would reduce the seven and a half credits of electives now needed to six and a half credits.

District officials recently changed the credit value for a semester of physical education from one quarter of a credit to half of a credit, meaning that students will only need two semesters of physical education to graduate. That change will also begin with the 2013-2014 school year.

The district would also add a one-credit senior project credit. The senior project, which would be done over four years, would be graded on a pass/fail system, O’Rourke explained and the theme of the project would be career exploration.

District officials, who have been discussing the change for several months, have noted that the state minimum number of credits for high school graduation is 21.

By easing up on the number of core subjects, students who wished would have more time to take advanced classes that they currently can’t fit into their schedules, district officials have said. It would also give students the opportunity to take college courses and to graduate early.

The proposed changes would give students, who needed to take remedial classes in order to pass the Keystone Exam, more time in their schedules, O’Rourke said. She added that students who are less academically inclined could use the extra time to work and to participate in apprenticeships and mentoring programs.

If the required course load is reduced, students who attend the district’s vocational school, Steel Center, would also have more time in their schedules to explore some elective courses, district officials said.

Changing the requirements could, over time, result in a cost savings for the district, O’Rourke said. She explained that course choices would be based upon student demand, and could end the need to pay a sixth period stipend for some teachers.

Courses that attract less than 18 students will be cancelled, as they are now.

“This isn’t, by any means, going to balance the budget,” she said.

Some board members said they feel there is a better way to give students options without lowering the graduation requirements.

“You seem to be changing (the requirements) for everyone for the needs of some,” said Richard Rose, school board member. “There are other ways to do this.”

School Director Dr. Tim Campbell also offered other options, such as cutting the number of elective credits, and addressed concerns about students only taking the minimum. “This is the only time that they’ll have this education thrust at them,” he said.

Other school directors argued that the students will not be the only ones making course choices.

“The parents have to sign off,” said Russ Spicuzza, a member of the school board.

Tom Majernik, a parent who attended the meeting, argued against the change. “I don’t think reducing the requirements is the answer,” he said. “You need to make it more rigorous.”

The last time the district changed the number of credits needed for graduation was in 2007, when it was raised from 25 to 27.

District administrators said the proposed changes reflect the changing times and changing economy.

“I have no qualms (about lowering the number of credits),” said Superintendent Nancy Rose. “No matter what path our students chose, we’re going to make sure they’re ready to get there.”

Kelly Albenze, a parent who attended the meeting, lauded the proposal to give students more options. Albenze said her daughter has exhausted all the science classes offered by the district for her course of study. With the free time, she will now have they opportunity to take some college courses while still in high school. “Thank you for not making my kids take courses they hate,” Albenze told school board members.

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