The State Board of Education is considering a change to its dropout policy.
The proposed policy would allow students who leave high school without graduating to not be counted as dropouts if they complete an adult diploma program at a community college.
The change could help districts reduce their dropout rates.
A similar idea has been considered in the past.
A bipartisan group of House members in 2009 filed a bill that would have excluded from the dropout ranks students who left high school and enrolled in community college GED, high school diploma or adult high school diploma programs. High school leaders backed that move because they didn’t think it fair to count as dropouts students who went on to get diplomas, but the bill died in committee.
The proposal the State Board of Education is considering is narrower. Students would have to enroll in an adult high school diploma program and graduate at the same time as their former classmates in order to be free of dropout status.
Some students now classified as dropouts intend to get diplomas but need the flexibility or the different environment offered in adult high school programs, said Debora Williams, special assistant for graduation and dropout prevention initiatives at the state Department of Public Instruction.
Adult high school courses are offered in classrooms and online.
Some high school students have children or are caring for sick relatives or younger siblings, Williams said. “Some districts are not equipped to handle all these different scenarios,” she said.
June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction, supports the proposal, and she said district superintendents do as well.
She framed the proposal as part of the blurring of lines between high school and community college. For example, early college high schools allow students to earn high school diplomas and associates degrees in five years.
Community colleges had 4,396 students, including 746 minors, enrolled in adult high school in the 2013-14 school year, according to the state system. The programs had 1,364 graduates at the end of the school year, including 186 16- or 17-year-olds. Students in the state are allowed to drop out of high school at age 16.
The adult high school option isn’t meant to be easier than traditional high school, Atkinson said, but to offer a different path to a diploma.
“It’s up to each local school district superintendent to affirm that the adult high school diploma is comparable and does have the same requirements for graduation,” she said.
But Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the adult high school diploma is not really equivalent to a diploma earned in a district high school. He sees the proposal as a way for districts to appear as if they’re doing a better job of keeping students in school.
“It may give the public some incorrect information as to whether the district is meeting the needs of a student in a sound way,” he said.
The State Board discussed the proposal in December. It will be up for a vote in February, Atkinson said.
N.C. Community Colleges spokeswoman Megen Hoenk said in a statement that they are working with the state Department of Public Instruction on the proposal “and will continue to work into the New Year to ensure a policy that is in the best interest of students.”