NIU partners with high schools in graduation requirement program

NIU and four high school districts have teamed up as part of a larger state pilot program to develop new graduation requirements which measure a student’s skills and abilities, not just the number of years spent studying subjects such as English and Math.

The Illinois State Board of Education announced the Illinois Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements program’s launch earlier this month. Ten school districts around the state are involved with the pilot which requires they work with a community college and a university to design a system for creating standards to assess a student’s mastery of certain skills, as well as the likelihood of their success in a higher-education setting.

NIU will be working with the Proviso Township, Round Lake, Huntley and Williamsfield school districts.

Being involved in the program presents multiple opportunities for NIU, including developing a stronger relationship with its partners at the high school level, according to Marilyn Bellert, associate director of NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement.

“It puts our faculty in touch with college and high school teachers,” Bellert said, noting such a connection has not always been part of the college-readiness discussions. “We’ll have a lot to learn from one another.”

In the pilot’s first phase, NIU and the schools will be looking at standards and expectations for students, as well as the ways for students to demonstrate specific abilities and knowledge. The second phase involves devising a style of transcript that reflects student competency, while also providing enough information to universities to determine financial aid, scholarship and academic eligibility.

NIU officials from several departments – from the academic side and faculty development to admissions and financial aid – have been discussing the potential impact of competency-based standards on university policies with the recognition it will be three or four years before students graduating from such programs begin to arrive on campus. The first task is finding faculty to work with the high schools to ensure graduates’ knowledge and skills align with NIU’s expectations, Bellert explained.

“It is an innovative approach to college readiness,” said Bellert, who praised NIU for “stepping up” to be part of the program.

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