The conversation that's missing from this article is how the TAKS tests are barriers for students who are successfully completing their course requirements but do not obtain a diploma. What portion of students would need this service if the exit exam requirements didn't exist, similar to many other states? We should also be concerned about those students who are in situations similar to Ms. Ramos who don't return after failing to pass one or more of the exit exams. -Patricia
Ryan Holeywell | The Monitor
January 9, 2008
PHARR — Fay Beth Ramos nearly missed out on her high school diploma — until a new Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district program gave her a second chance.
The 19-year-old was a senior at PSJA North High School last year when a low score on the science portion of her Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills kept her from graduating.
She had considered returning to high school but didn’t want to spend a semester taking classes when all she needed to graduate was a passing score on one exam.
Instead, she enrolled in a new program PSJA launched in the fall in conjunction with South Texas College that is designed for students who need only a few credits or a better TAKS score to graduate.
Ramos passed the test in October, graduated and is now studying to be a nurse at STC.
This week, PSJA began recruiting for next semester’s class of students for the College, Career & Technology Academy program. In the fall, 48 of the program’s 211 students graduated. The school’s principal, Leonore Tyler, said most of those who didn’t graduate are enrolled for the spring semester, which is set to start Jan. 16.
The program has now opened its doors to anyone under age 25 after previously focusing only on students who failed to graduate with the class of 2007.
“We’re very excited about working with that group as well, because … they have been out in that tough world for a few years,” said STC President Shirley Reed. “They know what it’s like not to have a diploma, not to be able to get a good job or a decent salary.”
Because students need a high school degree or equivalency to enroll in STC, the program helps students get a jump start on their studies by letting them take vocational and college preparatory classes while finishing up their high school work, Reed explained.
The district benefits by increasing its graduation rates and attendance, which plays a factor in determining how much funding it gets.
Tyler said 72 of the program’s students concurrently took STC classes with their high school studies at the academy. The majority of the graduates will take classes at STC or University of Texas-Pan American in the spring semester, she said.
“That’s one of our objectives for the school: to help students create some sort of … path, either to college or the career of their choice and to make sure they actually stick and stay there,” Tyler said.
Reed said she was moved when she attended the program’s graduation ceremony last month, since many of the students probably wouldn’t have earned their degrees without the help of the program.
Teaching the older students will be challenging, since many of them have children and jobs that would make attending school difficult, she said. Tyler said the school will work with students’ employers to tailor schedules, and Reed said STC is working with grassroots organizations to assist with childcare and transportation.
“I know they’ve all been tossed a lifesaver and a buoy,” Reed said.