Wednesday, August 16, 2006

State recommends more math and science

Express Staff Writer

Noting that Idaho has one of the lowest high school graduation requirements for math and science in the country, the state Board of Education has recommended that students in public schools be required to take an additional year of both those subjects.

If funded by the Legislature, the stiffer requirements would go into effect for the class of 2013.

Current standards require three years of social studies and fine arts, and four years of English, but only two years of math and science.

"I think it's the way to attract better paying jobs and good businesses," said Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who has been promoting funding for the tougher requirements in the Legislature.

Wood River High School already requires three years of math, but only two of science. However, Vice Principal John Blackman said most students do take three years.

The board's unanimous decision, made during a meeting in Idaho Falls on Aug. 10, followed 13 forums on improving education it had hosted this summer in communities throughout the state. Comments were collected from educators, parents and business people.

"These proposals are just the beginning," said Sue Thilo, board member from Coeur d'Alene, who chaired a committee on high school graduation requirements. "We need to address changes throughout the system. Strengthening middle school, in particular, was mentioned by educators around the state."

The board stated in a press release that it will make recommendations for funding the additional requirements, and will develop strategies to attract more math and science teachers, improve math curriculums and offer more training for elementary and middle school teachers.

The board stated it also intends to recommend incentives to reward districts that raise their requirements to four years of math and those that require students to meet algebra II standards.

The board noted that higher education representatives have repeatedly testified that math is the gateway course for college students; students who come to college unprepared in math drop out at a much higher rate.

"We have a problem now with students taking their last math class in their senior year," said Board of Education spokesperson Luci Willits. "By the time they get to college or work, they've forgotten a lot."

The new plan will go out for public comment before the board revisits the issue at a special meeting in November.

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