Group leans toward tougher high school requirements

Friday, January 21, 2005

A state education task force is leaning toward recommending tougher high school graduation requirements, its leader said Thursday.

Jerry Valentine, a University of Missouri-Columbia professor who's leading the group, told the state Board of Education that while final recommendations are a couple months away, the group thinks requiring more courses in the basic areas of math, English, science and social studies is the way to go.

Missouri currently requires 22 units of credit to graduate from high school. The state also has a college preparatory track that calls for 24 units, including more math, English and social studies than the basic graduation requirements.

Valentine said Missouri has the same or more total units required as nearly all of its surrounding states, but most others call for more units in core subjects than Missouri does.

The key in making changes is not just to move to a minimum of 24 units, which three-fourths of high schools already require, but to require more basic courses and fewer electives, Valentine said.

Cape Girardeau and Jackson high schools both require 23 units of credit as minimum graduation requirements. Cape Girardeau requires 24 credits for a college prep certificate and Jackson requires 26.

Another key component,Valentine said, is to ensure that courses taught statewide are in line with the state's expectations of what students should learn at each grade level.

"Algebra I in one school does not equate to Algebra I in another school," he said.

Also, he said, new standards would ensure that high schools teach students personal finance skills.

Valentine said the task force has found that much of what is now considered the college preparatory curriculum would be beneficial to all students.

"The level of reading and math required of students that go into the work world is very much the same as those that go into college," he said.

Some board members said educators also have to make sure students are ready when they reach high school to tackle the coursework.

"We're focusing on the back end of the K-12 spectrum. Are we asking the broad enough question?" asked board vice president Peter Herschend.

State Education Commissioner Kent King responded that high schools need the most study right now.

"It appears much improvement has occurred at elementary, but at high school we haven't seen that," he said.

King formed the task force to study how to improve Missouri high schools, including making recommendations on graduation requirements.

The task force also is studying whether to require an exit exam prior to graduation. Valentine said members are thinking some kind of exam is a good idea, but are divided on whether passing the exam should be required to graduate.

Another topic the task force is addressing is whether to include details on a high school diploma, information that could range from whether a student took college or vocational track courses to scores on standardized tests and participation in student and community groups.

The group plans to offer recommendations on all those concepts to the state Board of Education in April, but said it needs more time to consider broad principles of how high schools should be structured.

Staff writer Callie Clark contributed to this report.

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