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Missouri Approves New Graduation Standards, Reform Agenda

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The Missouri State Board of Education has formally adopted an "Action Plan for Excellence" that it devised in conjunction with officials of the state department of education.

The plan, approved earlier this month, includes upgraded graduation standards that will be required beginning with the class of 1988 and regulations for a college-preparatory certificate that districts may offer to encourage students to exceed the required minimum standards.

The document also makes a series of recommendations to be used as a ''working agenda for the rest of the decade at least," according to James L. Morris, public-information officer for the education department. Those recommendations cover such areas as teacher training and salaries.

The new standards represent a departure from a 10-year policy of local control, state officials said. "The existing requirements were established in 1973 to allow for maximum flexibility for local school districts who were to plan individual instruction programs for students," said P.J. Newell, assistant superintendent of instruction for the state department of education.

"But some districts failed to follow through," Mr. Newell said. "They let students get by with only a minimum number of units. Students in a few instances were graduating without a sufficient basic core of instruction. The state board this month decided to strengthen the core to ensure a reasonable minimum level for all Missouri students."

The new graduation standards "support Ernest L. Boyer's notion of the centrality of language as the heart of the curriculum, both at the elementary- and secondary-school levels," Mr. Morris said.

Under the new requirements, students must take at least three years of English; two years each of science, mathematics, and social studies; one year each of fine arts, practical arts, and physical education; and 10 additional electives, for a total of 22 units.

Currently, the state requires only six units drawn from English, mathematics, science, and social studies, with at least one unit in each area, and one unit each in fine arts, practical arts, and physical education, for a total of 20 units.

Included in the graduation requirements is a recommendation that local schools "emphasize the teaching of language across the curriculum,'' Mr. Morris said.

In enacting the new standards, the board also established criteria for a new supplemental certificate of graduation, which districts may use as incentives to "encourage students to go beyond the minimum," Mr. Morris said.

Incentive Certificate

The college-preparatory-studies certificate, as it is formally called, will be awarded beginning in 1985. To be eligible, students must complete 24 units of study, including four units of English; three units each of mathematics, science, and social studies; five "general" electives; and three "advanced" electives, either in foreign-language or core courses or in vocational-technical courses.

The board "strongly recommended" two years of foreign-language instruction and stipulated that students must maintain a 3.0 average in core courses and score above the national average on the sat or act examinations. The science sequence, the board said, must include "at least two units beyond basic biology and one unit with chemistry or physics or preferably both," Mr. Morris said.

Salaries and Time

The state's action plan calls for a minimum starting salary of $17,000 for teachers, beginning in 1985-86. It also proposes the adoption of a career ladder that would include regular, senior, and master-teacher levels. Such a system would help raise salaries and "recognize tenure and performance," Mr. Morris said. "About 40 percent of all teachers in the state are making less than $17,000 now."

The state could expect to pay an additional $40 million annually to raise beginning teacher salaries, according to board estimates. But the excellence report did not "put a price tag on recommendations," Mr. Morris said. "The numbers become distracting and questions of cost are ultimately the legislature's responsibility."

The plan calls for using time more efficiently during the school day through better classroom management. In addition, the state should expand early-childhood and parent-education programs, according to the plan.

The plan also recommends measures to improve schooling for special populations. It urges schools to make efforts to identify and provide special services for gifted and talented students, and asks the legislature to raise funding for vocational education. The state board is awaiting the findings of a year-long legislative study of vocational education that will conclude this summer.

The legislature should also increase funding for a coordinated program to improve the use of microcomputers in the classroom, the report says.

Under another proposal, the board recommends that the state develop a procedure for accrediting schools on the basis of student achievement. The board will consider expanding the state's mandatory testing program to grades 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12 and linking the results to accreditation decisions.

The excellence report also calls for a study of equity issues that relate to the state's foundation program, and it emphasizes the need for schools, parents, and businesses to build public support and additional funding for schools.

Skills Test Approved

Last month, the board adopted a rule, also included in the excellence plan, that requires all students to have passed every section of the state's Basic Essential Skills Test before receiving credit for 9th-grade courses needed for graduation. (See Education Week, Nov. 9, 1983.)

"Special-education students who do not take the test must be specifically exempted in their individual educational plan," said Mr. Morris. "Some of those students may be required to take only parts of the test and some will be allowed to use special testing procedures to take the examinations."

The board's report said the test may be offered seven times--once in the 7th and 8th grades, twice in the 9th grade, and once in grades 10, 11, and 12.

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