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Thousands of Minnesota students and families will benefit from decisions that Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker made the week of Jan. 15. After reviewing a new Center for School Change report, Ricker agreed to revise MDE guidance and request that every Minnesota district and chartered public school distribute this updated information about the state’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options law.

Dual-credit courses, whether taught on high school or college campuses, can save families thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, in tuition, book and lab fees. These courses can and have helped reduce high school and college graduation gaps – a high priority in Minnesota. Some students report these programs transformed their lives.

Ricker is following state law, which mandates that public schools post “up to date” information about PSEO on their websites and distribute it to 8th-11th grade students and their families by March 1 or three weeks before students register for fall classes, whichever comes first.

MDE’s guidance is here: https://education.mn.gov/MDE/fam/dual/pseo/023615. The report from the Center for School Change, which I direct, is available at bit.ly/38kXADO.

Among other things, the center found:

— Only three of 95 suburban, rural and urban districts whose websites were examined told students they may use the school’s computers and Wi-Fi for online PSEO courses.

— Only about half mentioned that funds are available to help students from low-income families get to a college or university campus for PSEO.

— Very few websites mentioned that MDE offers modifications for students with some form of disability who want take PSEO courses.

Ricker also is considering the center’s request to talk with about 20 of the 95 districts that have policies appearing to conflict with state law. For example, some schools:

— Say PSEO students can’t use school computers (state law says they can).

— Haven’t posted information about PSEO for four years on their websites (law says they must).

— Insist the law’s purpose is to allow students to take courses not offered via concurrent enrollment in the high school (that’s wrong).

— Tell students they can’t take PSEO courses until they’ve finished all required ninth and 10th grade courses (that’s wrong).

Other recommendations are for college and universities. Based on research by, among others, the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States, the Center for School Change urged more flexibility from Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. The report urges that a broader array of students be allowed to take concurrent enrollment courses offered by high school faculty, in cooperation with college faculty, as well as PSEO courses.

The report also discusses grade weighting, which can have an impact on whether a youngster receives a scholarship and is admitted to a college or university. Former Minnesota State Professor Walter Robert, who trained generations of Minnesota school counselors, pointed out that students’ grade point averages produce their class ranks. Heidi Meyer, executive director of the University of Minnesota Office of Admissions, explained that grade point averages and class rank are two of the primary factors that the university uses to admit students and award some scholarships.

The center’s report found that about 60% of the 95 schools studied didn’t weight grades. About 40% did. Among those not weighting grades are Burnsville, Caledonia, Foley, Milaca, Paladin Charter, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, and Minneapolis. Districts weighting some grades included Anoka-Hennepin, Braham, Osseo, St. Paul and Stillwater. Some, like St. Paul weight all dual-credit courses. Most weight only some. The report suggests that treating students equally would produce a policy that either weights all college level courses or none of them.

Giving students accurate information is vital. So is respecting all forms of dual credit. More high school students earning two- or four-year college credit is good for families, students and the state.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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