Credit Check

Kids rack up university credits right there in high school. And their districts and colleges ring up ample revenues in the process. But are the students really learning?

"She didn't realize the impact that was going to have on all of the faculty," says Davis.

Critics among the NHMCCD professors point out that they hardly oppose the basic concept of students earning some college credit while still in high school. Many are comfortable in the more traditional form of dual credit offered in college campus classes for advanced high school kids.

Professors Carolyn Davis and Nancy Kral have been fighting concurrent dual credit for four years.
Deron Neblett
Professors Carolyn Davis and Nancy Kral have been fighting concurrent dual credit for four years.

What the upset NHMCCD group believes is that the students need to demonstrate they have learned their subject, through methods such as the advanced placement courses and tests.

They also think stricter guidelines are needed to determine that the students are ready for the challenge. Unlike some schools that require above-average GPAs to enroll in an AP class, students wishing to take concurrent dual credit need only pass the Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP) to be eligible. That test can be waived if they score adequately on other exams such as the ACT and SAT.

Students who previously took an AP class may choose to take a concurrent dual credit class instead, avoiding the pressure of the mandatory AP exam. Adding to the college faculty's frustration is that Texas Coordinating Board rules allow AP students and concurrent dual credit students to take the course together in the same classroom. (Faculty members note that while most state universities and colleges accept concurrent credit, some smaller, private schools accept only AP, which is why some students continue to take it.) This, Kral and others say, leads to teaching toward a mean as opposed to keeping up a rigorous course schedule.

"The incentive is, these kids previously had to take the AP test," says Kral. "This takes the pressure off the high school teacher of having those students pass the exam. They are automatically given the college credit."

Nonsense, says LaVelle Shelton, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD's director for curriculum and instruction. Concurrent dual credit is the perfect solution "for students who have anxiety and are not good test takers." Shelton did not mention that they may not be good test takers because they haven't learned the material.

Shelton is not sure where the upset NHMCCD faculty members are coming from. "We screen our teachers very carefully," says Shelton. "The bottom line is, what's good for the kids? We need to have a cooperative spirit."

The concurrent dual credit program is gaining popularity in the Cypress- Fairbanks ISD. This past spring semester, there were 426 students enrolled, a jump from 201 students the previous year. Teaching some of these students is Barbara Fargarson, whose syllabus did not match up with Kral's standards a few years ago.

Fargarson thinks teaching a mixed batch of students does not hinder her ability to instruct. "I don't have the luxury to separate the AP kids from the concurrent credit kids, so they have to come up to the standards of the kids taking the AP test," she says. Fargarson, an 11-year teacher, brushes off Kral's and other faculty members' concerns.

"I never quite understood her objections," Fargarson says of Kral. "I never feel [the students are] being shortchanged."

But the faculty members' objections do not end with issues of academic integrity. One of the group's major sticking points is that NHMCCD encourages concurrent credit to generate much-desired funds through state reimbursement.

According to the district, NHMCCD tracks only the total amount of money reimbursed by the state (estimated at 40 percent of the school's funding), making it difficult to know how much the state receives for concurrent credit students. However after several requests by the Press, executive vice chancellor Stephen Head confirmed the state pays NHMCCD "between $900,000 and $1 million" for dual credit students. The Higher Education Coordinating Board says the state has paid the district $65 million in total state funding since the fall 1999 semester. Under the complicated reimbursement formula, a typical government course with 380 students would bring in $65,220 for the college district.

Adding to the faculty's concerns is the fact that public schools and college districts both get state funding for each student enrolled. As long as the student is enrolled in four or more instructional hours of high school credit, the kid is included in the average daily attendance figures of the high school, which increases funding for the public school district. So essentially some concurrent dual credit students are earning state money for two institutions while sitting in one room.

Critics also argue that even though NHMCCD compensates the public school district's faculty ($1,392 per class for every 25 students), not all high school faculty members in the program are paid for it. That's because not all school districts permit it -- prompting NHMCCD faculty members to wonder if high school faculty members are replacing essay tests with easier-to-grade multiple choice tests.

"You've got to have compensation," says Davis. "Otherwise, what teacher would spend the 30 hours I just spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday grading essay tests that go on for pages and pages?" Davis and Kral suggest that uncompensated high school teachers still teach the program to help their students earn college credit without having to deal with the pressures of the AP exam.

"There might be policies that school districts have that teachers cannot be compensated beyond their salary," acknowledges chancellor Pickelman. But what the school district chooses to do with the adjunct faculty salaries is beyond the college district's control, he says.

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