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Lehighton weighs lowering graduation criteria

A Lehighton Area School District director is again asking fellow board members and administration to evaluate dropping the required amount of credits to graduate from 26 to 24 over the next few years.

“I’m a proponent of reducing credits,” Joy Beers said during last week’s district workshop meeting. “I think one per year over the next two years would be a good plan. It allows students who earn that right an opportunity to graduate earlier and even enter the workforce earlier if that is what they wish to do.”

While the number of credits required to graduate is set by each individual district, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has set the minimum amount at 21.

Other districts around the area fall in between Tamaqua, which is at the low end with 22, and Palmerton, which requires 28.

Lehighton Area High School Principal Sue Howland said even though Tamaqua only requires 22 credits to graduate, it still only has 1-2 students per year graduating early.

“Lehighton actually has more students graduating early, even though we require 26 credits,” Howland said. “We also have a lot of students who could graduate early but choose to stay for the extracurricular activities.”

Superintendent Dr. Christina Fish said the district does have students who struggle to hit the 26 number each year, but it’s not necessarily because the number of credits is too high.

“They may have extenuating circumstances that bring them to that point,” Fish said. “For example, students who were not successful in their previous setting are often already behind the eight ball. Or they may have other needs that cause them to struggle to achieve the credits. Reducing the credits they need isn’t necessarily going to solve some of those problems.”

Lehighton last dropped its number of credits before the COVID-19 pandemic, when it went from 28 to 26.

Mike Lusch, a Lehighton Area High School teacher, worries about the message dropping the number of required credits would send.

“My concern is lowering the bar,” Lusch said. “If you go to our website, you see the word excellence. Would doing this drive down the motivation to excel? Everything is data driven now. I would be interested to see the data on how lowering the amount of credits increases the success rate of the students we have.”

Beers also pitched the idea last spring and said she was bringing it back because of the new faces sitting around the table.

“We have some new board members,” Beers said. “If I am just one of nine supporting this, however, I don’t think there is much point in having the administration do further research on this.”

Board President Jeremy Glaush said he’s not opposed to a two-credit reduction.

“I don’t see where that is such a huge drop, but I know there is more involved to it,” Glaush said. “It may give students a little more freedom if they know they have already hit that bar, they might be able to take a class they really enjoy their senior year.”

The district made no decisions on a credit reduction last week.