PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s public high schools will face a tight frame for putting a uniform standard into place this fall regarding how much credit their students receive toward high school graduation for passing dual-credit college courses.
The South Dakota Board of Education Standards chose Monday to delay a decision until July 7 on whether the dual-credit courses should be worth one-half credit or one credit. Most of the seven members said they wanted more information.
The Legislature this year passed a law calling for a statewide standard. That’s because there has been a mix, with some school districts awarding one-half credit and others giving a full credit.
The state Department of Education had issued soft guidance on the matter last year: “A local school district has the authority to determine how dual credit courses will equate to high school units of credit. The South Dakota Department of Education encourages local school districts use a 3:1 conversion as a guide. For example, a 3-credit dual credit course would equate to 1 full high school unit of credit.”
The department, in response to the new law, has now proposed a rule setting the standard at a full credit. But the department’s proposal received 17 written comments opposing the full credit — and none in favor.
The state board’s president, Terry Nebelsick of Huron, said Monday he wasn’t surprised to learn there was opposition to taking away a school district’s discretion. He spoke in favor of the proposed rule. “This work appears to be directly in line with the intent of the Legislature, so I am comfortable moving forward,” Nebelsick said.
During the state board’s public hearing Monday, two supporters spoke. One was Ed Cromwell of Rapid City, whose wife and son had worked to pass the new law. Cromwell said their son John greatly benefited from dual credit but will have to graduate with a home-school diploma. “This uniform crediting is an important first step,” he said.
The other supporter was Liza Clark, director of government relations and economic development for the South Dakota Board of Regents, whose members govern the state’s six public universities. She described the department’s proposal “fair and consistent.”
State Education Secretary Joseph Graves said the department’s full-credit proposal reflected an emphasis on competency rather than seat time. He noted that Algebra II at the high school level was a full-year course but in college the course was one semester.
Board member Phyllis Heineman of Sioux Falls, a former legislator, asked how many school districts currently provide a half-credit for a three-credit college course. Laura Scheibe, the state department’s director of career and technical education, said the department doesn’t directly collect that data. Scheibe said department staff were able to find approximately 100 districts’ policies and they split roughly 50-50.
Scheibe (pronounced shy-bee) noted that Sioux Falls and Rapid City, which have the most students among South Dakota’s school districts, use the half-credit. The department received opposition comments from those districts, along with a variety of others spread across the state.
Heineman asked how students would be affected. Scheibe wasn’t sure. “That’s something we would need to take back and try to figure out,” Schiebe said.
Said Heineman, “I just have some question and concern if that’s really increasing the academic rigor.” Board member Linda Olsen of Dupree said she also had a mixed opinion. “Really the time to me aligns more closely with the half a credit,” Olson said.
Secretary Graves said there was “a pretty strong assumption” in the Legislature that a three-credit college course would be worth one credit toward high school graduation. “That was probably an expectation,” Graves said.
Heineman said the Legislature didn’t really discuss the full or one-half question. “It went through on the consent calendar,” she said. “I think they really left it to us to say what is the right thing.”
Board member Steve Perkins of Sioux Falls said he would feel more comfortable having more information before making a decision. So did board member Rich Meyer of Rapid City. “I thought it was a no-brainer to begin with, but after this discussion, it isn’t,” Meyer said.
The timetable now calls for the board to decide on July 7, then send the decision to the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee meeting on July 18. If the rules panel gives the green light, the new standard could take effect 20 days later — possibly in time for the start of the 2023-24 academic year.
Heineman asked how school districts would treat dual-credit courses that students who were still enrolled had already passed. Secretary Graves said he doubted any school districts would change any credits that had been awarded. But, he added, “The district would have the ability to do it either way.”
Board member Julie Westra of Sioux Falls proposed deferring the decision to July 7. The board agreed 7-0.
Graves asked what more the board wants. Heineman said how many students have received one-half credit and how many a full credit. She also wanted to hear from school administrators whose districts had stayed with the one-half credit despite the department’s guidance last year. “I just think it would be a good thing to know exactly how we’re impacting students,” she said.
Perkins said he’d like to know more about the high school/college equivalency on credits. Westra wants to hear the advantages and disadvantages and the number of students being affected. “Are we talking about two hundred or ten thousand?” she asked. Heineman also wants to know about how dual-credit enrollment affects advanced-placement courses that high schools offer.
“I think we know what you’re asking for,” Graves said. Added Scheibe, “We’ll get to work and find some answers for you.”