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In 10th grade, all I could think about was flying. Lifting off, floating on the clouds, cruising at 30,000 feet — it was commercial airline pilot or bust for me. But as fate would have it, that dream for my career faded. I began to wonder if my talents were more suited to serve others in a different capacity. That curiosity ultimately brought me to Penn, a place that has allowed me to explore and cultivate my abilities.

In light of my personal narrative, you can understand my dismay at The Board Examination Program to be instituted at pilot schools in several states including Pennsylvania. The program, developed by The National Center on Education and the Economy, will allow 10th graders to test out of their final two years of high school and instead attend community college. Students will also have the option of taking college preparatory classes in their junior and senior years if they pass the cumulative exam but want to study at a four-year university.

The NCEE created the new program in hopes of limiting the necessity for students to enroll in remedial classes in community colleges. But the program poses a threat to student development. It sounds like a noble and progressive move, but frankly, it may do more harm than good.

Call me old-fashioned, but 10th grade still seems a bit early for students to be making life-changing educational and career decisions (it certainly would’ve been for me). Tenth grade coincides with the height of adolescence, a time of remarkable physical, emotional and psychological changes. It’s unfair to allow a kid to make decisions that tremendously impact his future at such a time of transformation. Heck, some of us are six years removed from that point, firmly planted in adulthood, and we still have no idea what to do with our lives.

My greatest concern is for those students who don’t pass the Board Examinations in 10th grade. Besides the discouragement that it could give students at an age of emotional vulnerability, the program could also have a negative impact on their future educational outcomes. Those who don’t score high enough to opt out would be promoted to 11th grade and assigned coursework geared toward earning an acceptable score the next year; the students aren’t seen as capable of taking college preparatory courses. Despite an otherwise strong academic record, a student may be denied the opportunity to take the college prep path because they didn’t fare well on a single standardized test.

Helping students advance in their studies is imperative if the United States is to remain competitive on the global landscape. But instead of skipping straight to community college, students could take higher-education classes to supplement their high-school studies. The Netter Center for Community Partnerships at Penn has been active in helping students in West Philadelphia earn credit from the Community College of Philadelphia while still attending high school. “We absolutely support the general idea of high-school students earning college credit,” Cory Bowman, associate director for the Netter Center, wrote in an e-mail. “Our local schools are working hard to make sure that the high-school students can actually test into dual enrollment, which is to take a class or a couple classes [at the Community College of Philadelphia],” The NCEE’s new program could stand to emulate the Netter Center’s efforts.

Four-year universities aren’t for everybody. But I wonder if the NCEE’s new program will steer kids away from pursuing a bachelor’s degree by providing them with an immediate, yet ultimately subordinate, alternative. I’m glad I didn’t skip my final two years of high school and college in order to fulfill my aviation dreams, and hopefully other students will take the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Jonathan Wright is a College senior from Memphis, Tenn. His e-mail address is Wright-ing On The Wall appears on alternate Mondays.

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