Hartford's High School Graduation Requirements Change
By DAGNY SALAS | Courant Staff Writer
June 20, 2008
A key proposal by Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski to upgrade standards and improve college readiness among city high school students by toughening graduation requirements was adopted by the school board this week.
The new requirements will take effect this fall. They increase the number of credits Hartford students need to graduate, make the curriculum more rigorous and put in place mechanisms to assist struggling students.
"Our test scores have shown we are not doing right by our children," said Andrea Comer, a board of education member. "This is an opportunity to step up to the plate, raise the bar, set expectations high and give students a chance to meet them."
Part of the overall school system redesign proposed by Adamowski, the new graduation policy increases the number of required credits from 21 to 24 and adds two years of a world language and two years of art to the requirements. Three years of math would be required, down one from the original proposal.
Built-in support mechanisms to help struggling students meet the new demands will also be included, said Penny MacCormack, assistant superintendent for secondary education. Based on national research for effective urban high schools, such support will include clarifying the new requirements, teacher training, smaller classroom environments and more time for math and language arts, as well as allowing students to extend their school year if they haven't passed all the components, MacCormack said.
The actual increase shouldn't greatly impact the system since the average student already takes six or more credits every year and the schools currently staff enough teachers to support students taking 24 credits, MacCormack said.
The real change will be reflected in what electives students take and don't take.
"Students will take less extraneous electives and repeat classes less," MacCormack said. "We will focus on areas students will gain credits in instead of how students might take a variety of electives now."
The program projections would add about 600 students per grade to the Hartford school system, MacCormack said, since goals are designed to keep students from dropping out. Among students who enter Hartford's three high schools as freshmen, the graduation rate is 29 percent.
For those students who make it to their senior year, the graduation rate was 89 percent in 2007.
"We want to increase the number of students who reach Grade 12," where the graduation rate is higher, MacCormack said. "We want an increased number of students moving from grade level to grade level."
The program will cost about $15 million over four years, MacCormack said. School board member Elizabeth Brad Noel, who cast the sole vote Tuesday evening against the plan, said she wishes the board had waited a year to implement more support for struggling students and to see the results of initiatives put in place this year at Hartford High School.
"We don't know how the supports have been working or not," she said. "I wasn't voting against the direction of encouraging students, but I did feel we need to give more support. There's a reason we haven't been succeeding."
Hartford PTO council president Millie Arciniegas was also concerned about how much support would be made available for students.
"The board and Adamowski are overlooking a whole gap," Arciniegas said. "Parents are wondering how kids will get extra help and be where need to be by the time they get into 12th grade. It's not achievable unless there are mechanisms in place to help kids coming in."
But Comer said she wouldn't have voted for the policy if she didn't feel students were ready to meet the new standards. Something has to be done to reduce the dropout rate that is "not acceptable by anyone's standards," she said.
"The bar has been set too low for too long for our students," Comer said. "As long as we continue to label kids that way, they'll continue to internalize it and won't succeed. Once you open the doors and say you can do anything you want to do, you can get results."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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