Proposed Hartford Graduation Requirements Get Mixed Response
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
April 23, 2008
A plan to dramatically increase graduation requirements at Hartford public high schools drew a mixed response from board of education members Tuesday night.
Several board members said that while they supported the plan's ultimate goal of better preparing Hartford students for college and the workplace, they were concerned about how it would be carried out.
The plan, proposed by School Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski, calls for increasing the minimum number of credits needed to graduate from Hartford schools from 21 to 25. If the plan is adopted, freshmen entering high school next year will be required to take at least four credits in mathematics, two in world languages and two in the visual or performing arts.
Students would also need to pass end-of-course exams to move on to the next grade level and would be required to participate in a senior project or internship that challenges them to apply knowledge and skills they learned in a special area of study. A student in the law and government magnet school for instance, might apply to be an intern in an area law office, school officials said.
Board member Elizabeth Brad Noel, who taught at Weaver High School for 25 years, said she agreed with where Adamowski was going with the plan, but was not sure it was the best way of getting there.
"Saying we are going to implement the standards presented to us tonight is like having a child who has never done pole-vaulting suddenly seeing the bar set at 9 feet and we're saying, 'That's what you're going to jump over,'" Noel said. "That's not fair."
Noel said she was worried the strict new standards would push students already struggling to achieve in Hartford schools to drop out.
Luis Rodriguez-Davila, another board member, said that if the school district doesn't put adequate supports in place — such as after-school classroom help, math labs, summer school and tutoring — the plan is a "recipe for failure."
"The presumption that by simply raising the bar it will be a magic wand that will automatically raise student performance is a fallacy," Rodriguez-Davila said.
The school system needs to start helping kids at the elementary level to make sure they have the proper core knowledge to take higher levels of high school mathematics or science that will be required in high school under the new standards, Rodriguez-Davila said.
School officials believe the new graduation standards — launched in conjunction with a radical redesign of all schools in the district focusing on smaller, themed schools, magnet schools and increased academic supports in all grades — will have the underlying support to be a success.
Currently, only about a third of all freshmen entering Hartford high schools graduate, and only about a third of those who do graduate go on to college.
Mayor Eddie Perez, who also serves as school board chairman, said school officials need to start somewhere if they want to improve performance.
"If not now, when?" Perez asked Tuesday. He said the school board can debate the proposed changes for years but will only see the district fall further behind. Currently, without required language credits, many Hartford students fail to meet basic college admission standards when they graduate.
"I think most parents wouldn't mind if their child stays an extra year if the paper we ultimately give them is something they can stand by," Perez said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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