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Tougher Graduation Requirements Proposed In Hartford

Adamowski Proposes Tougher Standards For High School Graduation

By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer

April 22, 2008

Hartford School Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski tonight will propose the most dramatic increase in high school graduation requirements in decades, issuing a bold challenge to students in one of the state's lowest performing school districts.

Beginning with this fall's incoming freshman class, the class of 2012, Hartford high school students will need a minimum of 25 credits to graduate, up from a minimum of 21 credits, under Adamowski's proposal.

High school students also will be required to pass end-of-course exams, do a special project or internship their senior year and take classes in world languages and the arts. Adamowski's revisions mirror and actually go beyond increased graduation requirements state education officials recommended last fall for all public high schools.

It's a risky gamble for Hartford's superintendent and one that could further alienate struggling students in a district where only about a third of all incoming high school freshmen stick around long enough to graduate.

But it reflects Adamowski's belief that the district's recent reorganization with its focus on smaller schools, special fields of interest provided by new magnet schools and proposed increases in academic support will enable Hartford's students to perform as well as their peers anywhere in the state.

"I believe our city has been limited by a psychology of low expectations," Adamowski told The Courant. "That just because our students are poor ... or because their parents can't give them the support they need, they can't perform. But I believe when we do raise expectations, our students rise to meet them."

The new graduation policy which will be presented to the board of education at a special meeting at Hartford Public High School beginning at 5:45 p.m. will assure that Hartford students have all the necessary instruction to meet basic admission standards at most colleges, something that has been sorely lacking in the past, school officials said.

Currently, many Hartford students who pursue a secondary education require some remedial instruction or need a special waiver to get in, officials said.

"In a very real sense this is about how we enable all Hartford students to participate in a college education, not just those who are lucky enough to win a lottery to get into a good school," Adamowski said.

Under the proposed new graduation policy, students will be required to earn four math credits one above the state recommendations and include Algebra I & II and geometry. Biology and chemistry labs will be mandatory as will a new half-credit requirement in geography.

Students also will need two credits in the visual or performing arts and two credits in world languages such as Spanish and French.

In recognition of the new global economy, the district will also start offering courses in Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.

Adamowski called the current lack of a required language course one of the district's "most glaring inadequacies" and one that puts many graduates behind their peers when they try to enter college. He said the visual and performing arts should be an integral part of any student's high school experience.

While state officials have suggested students take two credits in the arts and technical education, Adamowski is seeking two full credits in the arts alone.

"Hartford schools over the last two decades, due to budget cuts after budget cuts, have been stripped of the arts," Adamowski said. "I'd like to see a resurgence in our schools of performance groups, choirs, bands, ensembles. These are all things that should be part of the cultural and social fabric of our schools."

Hartford students will also be required to complete a "Capstone Experience," which is a one-credit special course in which they will be expected to complete a project, portfolio or internship that forces them to apply their special skills and knowledge. A student attending a law or government magnet school, for instance, may participate in an internship at a local law firm, school officials said. Adamowski said it is a way to better prepare students for the demands of college and the work force.

Lauren Kaufman, vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, understands the latter part of that argument. Much has been written about the need for a better-educated, better-prepared future work force in the state's culturally rich urban areas.

"The way the job requirements are today, the high-skill jobs, the high-wage jobs, you have to graduate with a more rigorous curriculum," Kaufman said.

"From our point of view, it's critical," Kaufman said. "If we're going to give kids in Hartford the same advantages as the students in the suburbs, they have to have a strong core curriculum along with all the appropriate support such as after-school programs, smaller class sizes and summer school."

Other states such as Ohio and Texas have tried strengthening their high school graduation requirements with mixed results. Mandatory end-of-course exams pushed graduation rates down in Ohio initially. The numbers didn't rebound until school officials amended the requirements and found a workable alternative test that was appropriate for urban students.

Hartford is proposing similar alternative tests to help make the new standards more accessible to all.

Kaufman said support is key. The city of Danbury created math labs to help students prepare for its strict new math requirements. The labs became so popular and so many students went on to pursue higher level math classes that the district ended up hiring more teachers to meet the demand, she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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