By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
Beginning next school year, students at Liberty Hill High School taking PreAP Pre-Calculus will have the opportunity to earn credits with the University of Texas at Austin.
The program, called OnRamps, was introduced to parents and students in May when representatives from UT visited the school.
The class is a partnership between the high school and the program’s faculty that will offer students a “high quality college course that will prepare them for the transition into postsecondary,” said OnRamps Assistant Director of Strategic Partnerships Jennifer Saenz.
The program is similar to the high school’s existing dual credit program offered through Austin Community College, but with at least one key difference.
A dual credit program awards one grade that goes on both the high school and college transcript. OnRamps is a dual enrollment course, and produces individual grades for the two transcripts.
The college grade is assessed through periodic exams that students take through an electronic interface with the University. Faculty there will not only grade the tests, but provide detailed feedback.
The interface, called Canvas, also allows the students to have a communication line with the University faculty.
The high school teachers assign the high school grade as they normally do.
Saenz said that oftentimes at the end of a year, the high school and college grades will be different, but that “misalignment in the grade is crucial to helping students understand the difference between high school and college.”
Saenz said that the difficulty for many students transitioning to college cannot be chalked up to higher academic standards. She said that instead, it is often because of different social expectations in education. The OnRamps program is designed to help students learn how to solve problems in more group-oriented settings.
“There are so many things for our students to learn about how college works” said Liberty Hill ISD Assistant Superintendent Toni Hicks. “How do you communicate with your professor? How do you check your grades online? There’s a lot outside the coursework itself.”
Hicks said the program would also be valuable to students for the access it gives to the university library system.
Beyond the collegiate learning model, however, the academic standards of the course are still higher.
A syllabus for the course reads that it will “deepen and extend (students’) knowledge of functions, graphs and equations form their high school algebra and geometry courses so that they can successfully work with the concepts in a rigorous university-level calculus course.”
Saenz says that first year teachers in the program receive over 80 hours of professional learning through the university faculty, which is “focused on deepening content knowledge,” “pedagogical knowledge,” and preparing “students in the academic and social expectations of college.”
Liberty Hill’s teacher for the program will be attending two weeks of training this summer for the program.
OnRamps is partnered with over 100 high school teachers in the state.