Graduation standards

Sunday, May 22, 2005

St. Joseph News-Press

A special task force visited St. Joseph last week to hear what our educators had to say about plans to boost Missouri minimum graduation standards. The visit could turn out to be something of a hearing test for the task force.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education put together the task force a year ago to address business leaders' concerns regarding the level of education public high school students receive. Its membership includes two superintendents, four high school principals, teachers, counselors and business people.

Savannah School District Superintendent Don Lawrence warned tougher standards and an exit exam could drive up the dropout rate.

"The last thing I want to see is more tests," Mr. Lawrence said. "We test students near death now." Educators also agree that tossing out the MAP, which the state invested millions of dollars and hours into creating, for a new high school exam sends the wrong message. As for the creation of a two-tiered diploma system, most feel it won't work.

... The task force made the following recommendations just days before holding the St. Joseph hearing:

* Increase minimum graduation requirements to 24 units of credit -- four units of English, three units each of math, science and social studies, plus a half-unit health requirement. Missouri's current requirement is 22 units.

* Develop a new "exit exam" to replace the current high school Missouri Assessment Program exams. All students would be required to take an exam, such as the ACT or SAT, with an "add-on component" to address Missouri's academic standards. Students would take the exam in 11th grade, but it wouldn't be a "high stakes" exam with a state-mandated passing score.

* Adopt a two-tiered diploma for public high schools. Students who earn 24 units of credit would qualify for a standard diploma. Students who also earn a specified score on the exit exam would receive an "advanced" diploma.

The task force will present the final recommendations to the state Board of Education in June. Whether those recommendations reflect the concerns raised here and around the state will be a good test of the task force's hearing.

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