Pennsylvania is one of eight states chosen to test a pilot program for high-schoolers by the National Center on Education and the Economy.
The program offers training for school staff so they can teach students in one or more specialized programs already used on an international level, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.
The center believes students who take part in one of those specialized programs and pass its exit exams will be ready for college academics, even within two years of starting high school.
The main goal of the program is to avoid having students need tutoring in college, as many do now. And it also gives high schools easy access to internationally acclaimed programs they might not otherwise have had the resources to get.
The center is a nonprofit group that provides training and technical assistance to help give students a better education that can help them compete globally.
The center hopes to have the pilot in place by the fall of 2011, and is working with the state Department of Education to select schools.
"Our high schools could be performing better," said Leah Harris, department spokes-
woman. "It's extremely important to reform our schools."
Guaranteed readiness: As part of the center's pilot program, underclassmen will be put in the lower level for two years and take classes under one of the board's specialized programs, as well as the school's other required courses.
The center guarantees if a student can pass the rigorous exit exams for the specialized program at the end of those two years, he or she is academically ready to enroll in any open admission, two- or four-year college and would not need any tutoring.
The center is working with Pennsylvania to figure out a more formalized process that would allow any student who passes the two-year exit tests to graduate early from high school.
Since the program has not yet been implemented anywhere, it's not yet known how many students would opt for early graduation if they could, officials said.
As of now, school districts can make an early-graduation decision on a case-by-case basis.
Next step: Students who decide to stay in school can enter the upper level of the specialized programs for the remaining two years and graduate with the rest of their class.
If a student successfully passes the upper level exams, the center guarantees the student would be academically successful at selective-admission colleges.
Schools that already offer Advanced Placement courses may be able to offer a more diverse range, center officials said.
And no York County high school offers International Baccalaureate, although a new York City charter school eventually will. That program emphasizes learning multiple languages and having a global awareness of issues. Other specialized program options include Cambridge International, Edexcel and ACT Quality Core.
Who participates: Betsy Brown Ruzzi, a deputy director with the center, said ultimately it would be up to individual school districts to volunteer to participate in the program.
About 10 to 20 high schools in each pilot state will likely be used in the test run, with the schools recruiting student volunteers.
Schools can choose which of the board examination programs they'd like to use.
The costs, which mostly involve teacher training and materials, are not yet finalized, although Ruzzi pointed out there could be a savings to the district by graduating some students early and thus opening up seats for other students.
Another advantage: The exit exams are internationally based, giving a student a much broader view of his or her performance against students from around the world.
"A kid in America will know where they stand internationally," Ruzzi said.
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ydblogwork.