State initiative lets some graduate with fewer credits

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A new Mississippi Department of Education initiative will make it possible for some students to graduate from high school with fewer than the 24 credits currently required.
The Pathways to Success program aims to better connect education and the workforce. Beginning this spring, all eighth-grade students must chose one of 16 career clusters that most interests them.
Students will have the flexibility to change their mind. Their cluster choice will be used to guide conversations with guidance counselors and may influence electives or certain career and technical courses students may take.
Under the initiative, students also will choose one of three pathways for graduation. One will be the traditional option that districts currently follow that mandates 24 credits. The other two pathways will allow students to graduate with 21 credits.
One option is the career pathway in which students must take four credits of career and technical education electives. Requirements for math, science, social studies, health/physical education and the arts are different than for the traditional pathway.
The other option is the district pathway that will require one fewer credit each for science, social studies and electives compared to the traditional pathway.
All districts must make the career pathway available for students beginning with this year’s freshman class, said Jean Massey, the MDE’s associate state superintendent for career and technical education. The 21-credit option was approved last year by the Mississippi legislature.
Districts can chose whether or not they will offer the district pathway, Massey said. They can also make their local requirements more rigorous than the traditional pathway. Tupelo, for instance, requires its students to reach 26 credits rather than 24.
Tupelo Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill made a presentation to that district’s school board on Tuesday about the new initiative. The district has previously considered reworking its graduation requirements to allow students who are two years behind their age peers – and thus in danger of not graduating before they turn 21 – to graduate with 21 credits.
Hill said rather than altering the requirements, the district could use the career pathway and district pathway to reach those students.
While the initiative will begin with this year’s eighth-graders, Hill said the district could choose to allow older students who are currently two years behind to graduate to graduate under either pathway with their parents’ permission.
District officials will meet with administrators, staff and parents as they determine a plan for the district’s graduation options, Hill said. They will present findings to the school board in December.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com