Tuesday, November 24, 2015         

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Students urged to try Step Up diploma track

About a third of the class of 2014 has chosen to tackle the tougher program

By Mary Vorsino


Schools are urging eighth- and ninth-graders to opt into tougher high school graduation requirements by the end of May.

So far, some 3,813 freshmen and 1,744 eighth-graders statewide have pledged to pursue the more rigorous "Step Up" diploma track.

On Oahu, about one-third of the class of 2014 is pursuing the tougher graduation requirements. About 13 percent of eighth-graders have said they'll pursue it.

The Step Up diploma debuted in 2009 as a way to better prepare students for college or an increasingly competitive work force, and is part of a national effort to beef up graduation standards.

The state Department of Education has long struggled with not only increasing the rate of graduates who enter college — now at about 50 percent — but also with making sure students don't have to take remedial courses once they get into higher education.

Students who opt for the Step Up diploma must take four math courses, including Algebra II, and three science courses, as well as complete a senior project.

About one-third of the Class of 2013, or some 4,286 sophomores, are seeking the recognition diploma. They are the first class given the chance to choose the tougher requirements.

Eighth- and ninth-graders are being asked to sign up for the recognition diploma by May 31, so they'll have plenty of time to plan.

"We found that students who start thinking about college earlier rather than the 12th grade are really the ones who are going to go to college," said Karen Lee, executive director of P-20 Partnerships for Education, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The Step Up graduation track was the model for the state's new "college and career ready" diploma, which will be available to students starting with the class of 2018 (today's fifth-graders).

Under a plan approved last month by the elected Board of Education, students will be able to choose the tougher diploma track when they enter high school.

The Department of Education proposed that the tougher diploma be the default, and so the new appointed BOE will take up the issue again.

The Step Up diploma carries with it some big perks: Students get information on college-prep activities and special consideration for scholarships.

Also, Step Up graduates with a 3.0 grade point average or higher get priority admission to Hawaii colleges. Depending on the school, students may also have to fulfill other requirements, such as attaining minimum SAT or ACT scores.

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