State officials studying tougher high school courses

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Seeking to prepare students better for college or employment, higher education officials have begun considering whether to urge that Missouri high schools raise their standards for graduation.

The push to put more focus on reading, writing and math follows December's release of a report by a 30-member panel created last March by Gov. Bob Holden to study the future of post-secondary education in Missouri.

In its report, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education recommended 10 steps for improving college preparation, participation and completion.

One recommendation urged that all high schools align their basic curricula with the college-track "core curriculum" recommended by the state's Coordinating Board for Higher Education.

Missouri currently requires 22 units of coursework for high school graduation. Ten are electives; the other units are three in communication arts, two in mathematics, two each in social studies and science, one each in fine arts, practical arts and physical education.

The college-track curriculum recommended by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education has 16 units, including four in English, three each in math and social studies, two in science and one in fine arts.

Higher Education commissioner Quentin Wilson said the Department of Higher Education is considering whether to recommend that the college-track curriculum become the standard for high school graduation.

For local high schools, that would mean upping the number of math courses students must take to graduate. Currently, the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school districts require students to accumulate 23 units of credit to graduate, but only two of those units requirements are in math.

Most college-bound students at those two high schools already take three units of math, because that is the admission standards for higher education institutions such as Southeast Missouri State University.

"I think for college-bound student it's fine, because if they're going to college they're getting that anyway," said Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent at Jackson High School. "But I'd need to know more about the proposal to comment if it's for all students."

If the college-track curriculum was adopted as the state's graduation requirement, students would have the option of dropping down to a more basic level, Wilson said.

A divided board

Members of the state board of education, which oversees elementary and secondary schools, are divided on the merits of that idea, spokesman Jim Morris said Monday.

Morris said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is surveying school districts to find out how many already require the tougher coursework to graduate.

The commission's report concluded that fewer students would need remedial help in college if high schools had more rigorous graduation requirements.

In 2002, according to the report, 23 percent of Missouri college freshmen needed remedial help in math and 13 percent required remedial English.

Staff writer Callie Clark contributed to this report.

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