Course Exams Would Become Feature Of High School Education
By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER, Courant Staff Writer
December 06, 2007
The State Board Of Education on Wednesday endorsed a proposal that would require high school students to pass end-of-course exams, complete an independent study, and take at least 24 credits in specific courses to earn a diploma.
The board's approval clears the way for a yearlong effort to solicit public comment. A final proposal, expected by December 2008, would be submitted to the legislature.
Changes could be implemented in the 2011-12 school year.
"This is a work in progress," Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said. "This is work that is designed to capture public input and to take people's best ideas and make it stronger."
The board's vote Wednesday also directed McQuillan to seek funding from the state legislature to study the costs of the changes.
A committee that included teachers, school officials, and business and higher education leaders came up with the recommendations. They were trying to address concerns about stagnating test scores, achievement gaps that rank among the most severe in the nation, a growing number of state students who graduate high school unprepared for college or the workforce, and worries that a lack of skilled workers will hurt the state's economy.
Under the proposal, many courses, such as algebra II, international studies and biology, would be required. At the moment, only a half-credit course in civics and American government are required.
An earlier proposal called for students to take one credit of U.S. history, 1860 to the present, with the intention of teaching pre-Civil War U.S. history in middle school, officials said. But word of the requirement generated concern that students would not learn about the Constitution, prompting board members to change the requirement name to "U.S. history."
The new requirements would also include two years of world languages — none are presently required — and three years of lab sciences, changes that would mean hiring more teachers and building more labs in many schools.
Connecticut would join a growing list of states to require end-of-course exams. The state would provide a model curriculum, which districts could use at their discretion. Some type of safety net would exist for students who are unable to pass the exams.
Officials have stressed that the proposal is still in draft form, and will probably change in the coming year as various groups weigh in. A "listening tour" begins this month, to put the proposal before the public. McQuillan said he is particularly interested in written responses.
"This is a huge change and a significant new direction for Connecticut," he said.
The board voted unanimously, but some members had concerns. Donald J. Coolican asked whether a safety net for students who cannot pass the end-of-course exams would undermine the exams.
James C. Blake, a student board member, asked why the changes should affect all schools, not just low-achieving ones.
McQuillan said the idea that only a small portion of students are struggling is not true. And Allan B. Taylor, the board chairman, noted that Connecticut's test scores, once the top in the nation, have stagnated.
"What's going on is we're staying steady, talking about how we're at the top, while people who haven't been at the top are moving and getting ahead of us," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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