By KAREL HOLLOWAY / The Dallas Morning News
Monday, June 15, 2009
Amy Simpson is preparing to teach her first college class, but she'll be teaching it at North Garland High School.
Simpson will spend the summer wading through the requirements for a college composition course, matching them to the state curriculum for high school English. She'll pick materials and write lesson plans.
And when students complete the class, they'll have the chance to earn both high school and college credit for it.
The dual credit program is not new. But the classes are becoming more popular due to a change in state law requiring districts to offer students an opportunity to earn up to 12 hours of college credit in high school.
For decades, students have earned college credit by taking Advanced Placement classes, college level courses taught by specially trained district teachers. Students can take a test at the end of the course, and with a good grade, can earn college credit.
The new state requirement, along with the number of traditional AP courses, has left school districts such as Garland scrambling to meet the demand. They also must find enough money to pay for both programs.
In Garland, board members are planning a workshop this summer to discuss academic and financial considerations of both programs.
"I don't think they are competing programs," said Garland school board member Larry Glick. "They form part of the total college readiness program we are working on."
The district has spent years building its AP program. The end-of-course tests are administered nationally by the College Board, a nonprofit organization that oversees the program.
The number of Garland students taking AP tests increased 13 percent this year. But compared with last year, a smaller percentage of students earned a grade high enough to get college credit.
Meanwhile, the number of students taking dual credit classes is growing fast. About 770 students took the classes this school year, the second year for the fledgling program. Next year, 1,700 are signed up, said Linda Phemister, who oversees the Garland program.
But the biggest obstacle to expanding the dual credit program, officials say, is finding teachers with college-level teaching credentials. In general, teachers must have a master's degree in the subject they teach or have graduate hours in that field. Many have a master's degree, but not in their field.
Simpson has a master's in Christian education and is working on a doctorate in literary studies from the University of Texas at Dallas. In addition to dual credit, she also will be teaching the same AP classes in literature that she has taught for three years.
"I think that by offering both you hit a lot of different kinds of students," Simpson said.
Financially, dual credit is more expensive for districts. Richland and Eastfield community colleges, the two who partner with Garland, waive student tuition. But the district must pay for college textbooks.
With AP classes, students shoulder more of the financial burden. They must pay to take the tests – usually $54 with state and federal subsidies. But the total can pile up when students take multiple AP classes.
Academically speaking, research shows AP students do better in college than students who don't take advanced classes, but there is little recent research comparing AP courses with dual credit programs.
The most recent survey available, in 2001, examined college grade point averages of almost 25,000 Texas students. It found that AP students had slightly higher grade averages at the end of the first and fourth years of college.
For students, which program is best depends on their goals, said Cindy Castañeda, Garland school board member and executive dean of ethnic studies, social science and physical education at Richland College.
"I think parents need to have a good discussion with their student," she said.
James Goeman, a senior education specialist with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, works with the dual enrollment program. He said both programs can be a good fit.
"I don't think you can say that either one is clearly superior," he said. "Both are good for students; both of them are good for the state."
Comparing college credit programs
For years, high schools have offered Advanced Placement classes as a way for students to earn college credit. Districts are expanding their dual credit program in partnership with community colleges. Here are key points of each program:
•College-level classes offered in high schools, mostly to juniors and seniors.
•Often part of the honors program, students usually take pre-AP classes in earlier grades.
•AP is standardized nationally by the nonprofit College Board, which administers the end-of-course tests.
•Students scoring 3 or higher (on scale of 1 to 5) can typically receive college credit.
•May be best for students considering competitive out-of-state universities because they are based on a national standard.
•College-level classes offered by schools in partnership with local community colleges.
•Students must qualify for college admission and take a college placement test.
•Students who get a C or better automatically receive college and high school credit.
•Credits are accepted by all Texas public universities and may be accepted by other colleges.
•May be better for students planning to attend a Texas public university because of the guaranteed credit, and many Texas private colleges accept them as well.