Creating a path to higher learning

Rigorous study aids students’ college prep

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With an increased emphasis on preparing students for college and a career, the Hewlett-Woodmere and Lawrence school districts and the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway are stressing the importance of taking more rigorous courses.

Long Island’s high schools are doing a better job of encouraging students to take more challenging classes, with 53.6 percent of graduating seniors last year earning Regents diplomas with Advanced Designation, an increase of nearly 6 percentage points over 2012, according to the New York State Education Department.

Hewlett High School has had a high rate of success, with nearly 68 percent of its seniors in 2013 earned Regents diplomas with Advanced Designation, which requires completion of more difficult math, science, English, social studies and language classes.

“We encourage students to take courses with rigor so they are better prepared for college and careers,” said Mark Secaur, Hewlett-Woodmere’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Hewlett High School subscribes to course self-selection, which means that motivated students are encouraged to engage in rigorous coursework.”

HAFTR students are also doing well. Of the 79 who graduated last year 50 earned the advanced Regents diplomas or the Advanced Designation with Honors. “Having a high percentage of students earning advanced diplomas means that teachers are doing an outstanding job of preparing students for the next step in their formal education and that the school has a strong academic program,” said Karen Wolf, the school’s associate director in charge of college guidance.

The percentage is much lower in Lawrence, where 31.4 percent of 2013 seniors graduated with advanced Regents diplomas. Deputy Superintendent Ann Pedersen said that the district is looking to improve and is aware of what colleges want from students. “We are always working to provide the best educational experience for our students,” she said. “College advisors counsel schools to have student transcripts reflect their taking of the most rigorous courses.”

Advanced Regents helps students

Secaur, Pedersen and Wolf agreed that an advanced Regents diploma is a strong indicator that a student is prepared for college and increases his or her chances of being accepted. “Earning an advanced Regents diploma translates into taking a challenging college preparatory curriculum,” Wolf said, “and is usually a prerequisite for earning admission to the most selective colleges.”

Hewlett High senior Elissa Candiotti, who has taken five Advanced Placement courses, two honors classes and college-level Spanish, said that in addition to building her college resume, the higher-caliber courses have added to her education in other ways. “… [T]hese classes have taught me how to balance my time, cope with stressful information or tests, and work towards an often difficult goal,” she said. “Undoubtedly, the advanced Regents courses have better prepared me for college. I’m more aware of deadlines and the quantity of material that must be studied.”

Carina Kohn, a Lawrence High School senior, has taken 10 Regents-level classes and several A.P. courses. Kohn said that studying “a vast amount of material in one subject” and sitting through lengthy Regents exams helped her in A.P. classes, and the overall academic rigor has readied her for college. “I believe that the A.P. classes are what truly prepared me for college,” she said. “I know that I could not have done as well in them had I not taken the advanced Regents classes as prerequisite.”

Seeking to improve

Lawrence is looking into having students take physics before chemistry to help improve science and math scores. “The math of physics aligns with algebra,” Pedersen explained. “We’re investigating having students go from algebra into physics. At Lawrence High School, the administrative team and guidance department are looking to increase the math courses taken to not only address the diploma, but to increase SAT scores.”

To maintain and increase the number of advanced diplomas, Wolf said, HAFTR will continue to encourage its students to take the most challenging math and science courses. “We work with students individually to choose the most appropriate and rigorous courses possible, depending on the students’ individual strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

With an eye to helping their students gain admission to colleges, Secaur said that the district’s focus is on increasing the number of students taking higher-level classes. “We recognize the value of increasing the number of our students who earn a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation,” he said. “We will continue to work diligently to support students who wish to enroll in the courses required to achieve this designation.”

Have an opinion about how well students are being prepared for college and careers? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.