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By AP  /  
2015 March 30 - 10:18 pm

Ore. Bill Takes Aim at ‘Fifth-Year’ High School Programs

Foes Complain College Readiness Programs Drain Dollars from Public Schools

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill to alter or eliminate fifth-year programs designed to help high school students be successful in college.

The programs allow some students to defer getting a high school diploma. Instead, they take additional courses at a community college in a socalled fifth year of high school.

Because the students remain with their high school district, the districts get state money that helps pay for the students’ college costs, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported (http://is.gd/x4ZTiO ).

Supporters say the program helps students prepare for and finish college, and they’re especially helpful for students whose parents didn’t go to college. But critics say they drain dollars meant for elementary and secondary schooling to college educations.

School districts handle the programs differently. In Corvallis, for instance, students are required to create an academic plan and take both Math 111 and Writing 121, the courses most often failed in the Oregon University System.

They also must make use of the tutoring center and do a quarterly check-in with an academic counselor.

Advocates say that’s aimed at helping first-generation college students make it through to college graduation, and it should be valuable if the state is to meet its ambitious college education goals.

In her first year at Linn- Benton Community College, Karina Diaz-Lopez hopes to become a dental assistant and the first college graduate in her immediate family. Her parents grew up in Mexico and neither went to college.

“Just knowing what classes I have to take for each term, how I should be planning those classes,” she said. “My adviser has been very helpful.”

Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton says advocates have their hearts in the right place, but the fifth-year programs drain funds intended for K-12 education. “Ask any parent who has a first-grader in a crowded classroom whether that parent thinks K-12 money should go to kids who have effectively graduated and are going to college,” Hass said.

Further, he said, fifth-year programs work now only because the school systems that have them are relatively small.

“If Portland were to go this way, it would break the bank,” he said. “It’s not a sustainable solution.”

Portland, Salem and Eugene have their own struggles, but their sheer size affords them more student options and more community resources to tap, said Maria Delapoer, superintendent of Greater Albany Public Schools.

“Equity doesn’t mean everyone gets the same resources,” she said. “Equity means districts or kids get what they need to be successful, and that’s not the same for every kid and every district.”

In Sweet Home, where 70 students are enrolled in this year’s fifth-year program, Superintendent Keith Winslow is blunt: “The people up north are crying that this isn’t equitable. I guess my comment back would be, even before these programs, it wasn’t equitable, either. And we took the short end of it, always.”

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