Wednesday, October 12, 2005

State proposes graduation requirement changes

Blaine County well positioned to meet demands

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho State Board of Education is proposing major changes to its graduation requirements for Idaho students. The initiative proposes increased graduation requirements, with a concentration on math, science and career-focused classes.

"I believe everyone knows it is necessary and that it will be a good thing to make sure kids have a more thorough education," Blaine County School District Superintendent Jim Lewis said.

In his view, the Blaine County School District is well positioned ahead of the curve to implement the proposed requirements to high school and middle school curriculums.

"We have already accomplished 95-percent of it," Lewis said.

After gradually increasing high school graduation requirements over the last five years, adding a senior project requirement and establishing high school academies, district officials believe Blaine County students would see fewer changes than students attending school elsewhere.

"We have most of (the proposed changes) in hand already. They are already a part of our requirements," Wood River High School Principal Graham Hume said.

According to the State Board of Education, the curriculum changes are aimed at narrowing the gap between those students who graduate high school and those students who enter college.

The board has scheduled public hearings around the state this month before it reconsiders the changes in November. The Idaho Legislature must then approve the changes.

At issue is a proposal to require more math classes, more science classes, career-focused electives, a college placement exam, and a senior project for high school students. Middle school students would be required to maintain a C grade average and to complete algebra courses.

"It is the right thing to do, but someone had better be planning the funding, or you are going to rob from other programs to make it happen," Lewis said.

Under the proposal, the Blaine County School District would need to add math and science credits to the high school graduation requirements. Currently, state standards mandate students take four math and four science credits to graduate. The state proposes to raise the bar, requiring eight math and six science credits.

Wood River High School and Carey High School would need to add two math credits and the Silver Creek Alternative School would be required to add four credits to align with the state's proposed math requirements.

All area high schools would also need to add two science credits, all lab classes, to the current standard.

To comply with the standards, Lewis anticipates the district would need to hire one math teacher and one science teacher at Wood River High School and one additional teacher at Carey High School.

Lewis estimates the additional teachers would cost the district $220,000 per year, in addition to the cost of books.

Hiring may pose a problem, as teachers in the math and science fields are scarce. Lewis noted that the statewide demand might further exacerbate the hiring problem.

Lewis also noted the increased academic requirements should come with matching elective requirements to maintain a well-rounded education.

"Every time (Blaine County) added requirements, we also added required electives. If you don't do that, you lose the arts and activities side of the curriculum. Kids will take what they have to," he said.

In addition to gradually increased graduation requirements, Blaine County schools have addressed other proposed state initiatives. The district requires junior students to take the PSAT test and maintains eight career-focused academies.

This year Wood River High School introduced the senior project requirement for 2006 graduates. The senior project requirement is proposed as a 2007 graduation requirement for Silver Creek Alternative students.

The state's proposal also introduces new requirements for middle schools.

"I believe we can ask a little more of our middle school students statewide, but we do need to be careful," Lewis said.

Under the initiative, middle school students would be required to maintain a C grade average in the content area courses of math, science, language arts and social studies. Currently, no cumulative grade average standard exists.

"The C average will definitely put some stress (in the schools). I certainly hope it won't water down the grading system," Lewis said.

Middle school students would also be required to earn a passing grade in either a Pre-Algebra or Algebra I class before entering the ninth grade. No requirement currently exists.

Middle school students would also have to prepare a post-readiness plan at the end of the sixth grade, rather than at the end of the eighth grade.

"By pushing the requirement to the sixth grade, I don't know that we would be accomplishing anything," Lewis said.

Although the Blaine County School District appears well positioned to tackle the changes, Lewis stated that in order for the measure to be successful on a state level, provisions must be made for special needs children, funding must be provided and infrastructure must be in place.

To get involved:

The State Board of Education is holding public hearings to gather comments on proposed changes to Idaho's graduation standards.

The hearings take place Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Boise State University Student Union Building, in Boise, and Thursday, Oct. 13, at the College of Southern Idaho, Taylor Building Room 277, in Twin Falls. All hearings take place at 6:30 p.m.

The state is also accepting written comments, which must be received by Oct. 26. Write to the State Board of Education, Attention High School Rule Change, P.O. Box 83720, Boise, Idaho 83720-0037.

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