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Board set to boost graduation conditions

Comments from Annie: Utah falls into line with policies that will raise the stakes in their high schools but in the process their students will sacrifice Music and other electives.

Board set to boost graduation conditions

Language arts, math, science to be increased

The Utah Board of Education is expected today to officially raise high school graduation requirements in language arts, math and science the effects of which will range from nothing to potentially millions of dollars for taxpayers or fewer electives for students, depending on where you live.

The board proposes adding another year's worth of language arts, math and science to high school students' schedules. That means the Class of 2011 and beyond would need four credits of language arts and three each of math and science to graduate. Students still would have to demonstrate competency in at least geometry or applied math II; strugglers could take up to two years to finish those courses.

A handful of school districts as of 2002 had already raised the requirements to the state-proposed level, according to State Board of Education data. They include Carbon, Daggett, Garfield, Kane, Tintic, Park City and South Summit; more conceivably could have come on board since. Electives in those districts ranged from five to 10 credits.

The additional requirements didn't much affect a couple of Garfield County families interviewed.

"It didn't seem like it fazed her," Panguitch High parent Beth Orton said of her daughter, who graduated last spring. "I honestly think it's better . . . they need to get the standards up so (high school graduates) can function in society."

Other districts, including Ogden, Davis, Jordan and Granite, require four credits of language arts to graduate; Granite requires an extra year of social studies, and Ogden requires students earn two credits in math but spend all four years in a math class of some sort, essentially giving students who need extra help two years to complete a single credit.

But Granite and Davis say the boost in math and science will affect their students about 130,000 combined.

"I think it begins limiting for kids their options for their electives in areas of CTE (career and technology education) and fine arts. We're going to have the issue of released time," or students in LDS seminary having even fewer chances for electives, said Linda Mariotti, Granite District's assistant superintendent over instructional services.

Davis Superintendent Bryan Bowles also worries about finding math and science teachers amid a teacher shortage, and whether taxpayers will have to pay to retrofit or add science classrooms to high schools for additional courses needing lab space and special equipment. While two-thirds of Davis students take at least three math and science credits, the other third will need classrooms.

"Right now, all our science classrooms are busy all day long," Bowles said.

The State Office of Education expects some costs. It recommends the state school board seek an extra $15 million a year to help students meet the requirements. A board resolution also aims to secure money to recruit math and science teachers, add school counselors and prevent classes from growing too big.

Students could choose from a list of accepted courses to meet the new rules, including journalism and business communication, accounting, computer programming, biotechnology and wildlife management.

The board discussed the matter Thursday; mostly, in fine-tuning a resolution and formal rule, which has the effect of law on school operations.

"This really has been difficult," state associate superintendent Myron Cottam told the board. A committee worked out ramifications of the change and an approved course list, and "we've had some knock down, drag-outs . . . but I think it has come together."

The additional requirements are backed by the Governor's Office of Economic Development Board, and responds to legislative threats to require four years of each of the three subjects.

It also would lift state-mandated courses from 15 to 18 credits and drop the minimum electives allowed from nine to six.

Utah now requires less of students than other states and is below national averages in all but social studies and P.E. requirements, the Education Commission of the States reports.

The state school board for years has pondered a boost, but continually backed off amid community fears over cut electives and arts. Those concerns remain.

The 150-student Panguitch High School in Garfield, for instance, cut its music program when the graduation requirements rose there.

"Parents here were very disappointed," Garfield Superintendent George Park said. "We're looking for creative ways . . . of getting our students to have the opportunity to do music," including offering a strings program as an extracurricular club. "We wish we could do more right within the regular high school system, but we have due constraints; we have limited staff."

It's tough to say whether a 2,000-student urban high school would share Panguitch High's experience, said Brett Moulding, who oversees curriculum and graduation requirements for the State Office of Education. Too many factors are at play.

For instance, state associate superintendent Cottam, former Garfield superintendent, said an eight-period block schedule gives students more room for electives.

Park says even with sacrifice, the move is worth it.

"Moving in the direction of requiring more math and science and English is the right thing to do, absolutely," he said, adding the change did not affect graduation rates as once feared. "We need to do the best job we possibly can to prepare our students for competitive positions in a global economy."

It's a statement most educators can agree with. But Mariotti wonders if increased graduation requirements which is, in a way, more seat time, though the state wants to award competency-based credits is the way to do it.

"I don't think we have any trouble (with increasing graduation requirements); we had contemplated in Granite District increasing the math requirement," Mariotti said. "I want a rigorous experience for all our kids . . . but I'm not sure what approach is going to get it there."

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

— Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Deseret Morning News


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