Did you take the interactive sample of the state high school graduation math test MinnPost carried Thursday? The Facebook score-comparing that ensued and the comments posted to the practice test suggest the world might tidily be bisected into the math-impaired and those who casually throw around oxymoronic phrases like “basic trigonometry.”
Like the policymakers Learning Curve talked to while reporting the accompanying history of Minnesota’s exit exams, many readers were left puzzling over the same central concern: If the tests are left with few defenders, is there an effective way of ensuring graduates are ready for college and the workforce?
How apropos, then, that Mounds View Public Schools Thursday announced its Irondale High School has been selected for a prestigious Local Government Innovation Award by the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs and InCommons, a novel, community-based initiative. Irondale beat out 34 other school entries for the award, which recognizes its Early College program.
Minnesota students have long had an array of opportunities to participate in college-level, credit-earning courses. But this academic year, Irondale became the first school to formally push students “in the academic middle” to enroll and work toward earning a free, two-year associate degree along with their high school diploma.
The free degree is actually the icing on the cake. The program’s larger aim is to increase the number of students prepared to complete college by exposing kids to college-level rigor starting in the ninth grade and providing them with the support to master the work. By the time they graduate, college — or another post-secondary option — should seem doable and within reach.
In the first year of implementation, Irondale has more than doubled the number of high school students participating. Two-thirds of its sophomore class is enrolled, compared with one-third last year. Participants (and their educators) can be heard describing the galvanizing effect in a video posted to the district’s website.
Another complementary Mounds View college-preparedness initiative has graced this blog, too: Two years ago, the district began offering every 11th-grader the chance to take the ACT exam for free, in school during the regular day. The scores will help them figure out whether they are on track to get into college and pinpoint any areas students need to shore up before the next year, when most will take the test again.
Irondale will now compete against two other Local Government Innovation Award finalists — a city and a county — for the chance to win a $25,000 grant. Votes from community members will be solicited in coming weeks. Mounds View administrators have mastered the use of social media to keep stakeholders in the loop, so anyone interested in voting for the program should easily be able to find out when and how.