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Project Aims To Strengthen Students' Skills

Comments from Annie: Like it or not, Maryland receives more “help” from the Business Roundtable. So that the "average" kid can stop taking "below-average" courses and instead take Algebra II, which everyone KNOWS will "prepare" her for whatever lies ahead…

Maryland education officials are joining educators in 21 other states in an ambitious effort to make high school students better candidates for college and the workplace.

In meetings last week in the District, educators and business leaders from across the country discussed how they could advance the American Diploma Project, an initiative to raise expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the time they receive their high school diplomas.

The goal of the American Diploma Project is for states to encourage students to take more challenging classes, rather than settling for the minimum coursework needed to graduate. Project developers hope this approach will help students to graduate from high school with stronger skills.

In Maryland, that could mean high school students would be required to add Algebra 2 to their math courses and pursue higher-level studies in science to be able to graduate.

"There are challenges both nationally and internationally for these kids," said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, which will take part in the effort. "An average kid taking a below-average curriculum will have little or no opportunity in this economy."

State education officials said they hope to have the new requirements in place by 2008. School systems' participation in the program would be optional, educators said. Only legislation could make the tougher graduation requirements mandatory.

Maryland is already pushing its public school students to do more. This year's freshman class is the first group that will be required to pass exit exams in four subjects -- algebra, biology, government and English -- or otherwise to post a minimum score on each test and a combined passing score to be able to graduate.

But many observers do not think passing the high school exit exams is an adequate requirement. They say students need to do more to prepare themselves for life after high school.

"This is not just about passing a test," said Matt Gandal, executive vice president for Achieve Inc., the nonpartisan organization formed by governors and business leaders that is working with the 22 states involved in the project. "It's about being ready for whatever comes next when you graduate."

Too often, Gandal said, students graduate from high school, enter college and are put into remedial courses because their skills are deficient. In the workplace, many are shocked to discover that their high school education wasn't enough to prepare them for their bosses' expectations.

As part of the American Diploma Project, Achieve conducted a survey that found that college professors and employers weren't the only ones concerned about the skills with which students were leaving high school. About 40 percent of graduates said they felt they weren't prepared to deal with the demands of college and the workplace.

Most of the students surveyed -- 77 percent of those who were not in college and 65 percent of those in college -- said that they would have worked harder in high school if they had been aware of what they would face after graduating.

In Maryland, state education officials said the American Diploma Project would help the state to do a better job of preparing students for college and work.

"The American Diploma Project is designed to ensure that when students graduate from high school they're college- and work-ready," said Ron Pfeiffer, deputy state superintendent for academic policy. "We don't want to have students leaving high school and going into remediation."

The American Diploma Project could mesh with another experimental program in Maryland designed to raise graduation standards for public school students.

The Maryland Scholars program is a voluntary initiative launched in 2003 that encourages students to take more difficult classes. It is showing promising results in two school systems, those of Frederick and Harford counties, which are trying out the new approach.

— reporter: Lori Aratani
The Washington Post





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