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Curriculum Standards Nearing Approval in California

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The California State Department of Education has sent the state board a sweeping set of standards for upgrading the content of high-school courses.

The aim of the new standards, state officials say, is to raise academic expectations for all students.

The board was expected to approve the "Model Curriculum Standards, Grades 9 Through 12" late last week.

Development of the standards was required under a 1983 education bill passed by the legislature. Under the terms of the bill, the standards are only guidelines, and "neither the superintendent nor the board shall adopt rules or regulations for course content or methods of instruction."

Focus on Content

In contrast to other states' curriculum measures, which have focused on increasing the number of courses required for graduation, the model curriculum standards address the goals, the content, and the learning outcomes for teaching different subjects in great depth.

In a 250-page document, state officials set out proposed standards for each of six subject areas: English and language arts; foreign language; history and social science (including U.S. history and geography; world history, culture, and geography; American government and civics; and economics); mathematics (number, measurement, geometry, patterns and functions, statistics and probability, logic, and algebra); science (biological and physical sciences); and the visual and performing arts (drama, music, dance, and the visual arts).

Each subject area includes between 15 and 40 standards or goals, such as: "all students will learn that writing is a process that includes stages called prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing"; "a course should examine the British legal and political heritage of American governmental institutions"; and "students [should] explain the value and uses of negative numbers."

Subject Standards

Standards for each subject are supplemented by representative activities, sample assignments and topics, and suggested texts.

The guidelines contain such recommendations as:

English classes should revolve around a suggested list of "core" readings, some of which should be studied in depth. (A recommended list is included with the standards.) Districts or schools should develop a systematic writing program for students, and devote 40 percent to 50 percent of classroom time to writing.

The goal of the history-social science curriculum should be to "prepare California youth to assume productive, thinking, and satisfying roles in contemporary society" through the acquisition of academic, civic, and social skills, and, in particular, through an understanding of American civic values.

Every student should be assigned mathematics homework to be done outside class; should use calculators routinely in solving problems; should have opportunities to use computers; and should be given complex problems to solve that involve numerous steps and real-life situations.

Year-Long Effort

Committees of 25 to 40 citizens and educators developed the standards for the various subject areas beginning in the spring of 1984. State officials note that Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig has made a concerted effort to sell the standards, and has involved nearly every contingent of the community in their development.

Despite the standards' breadth, education officials anticipated that the state board would make only minor modifications before approval.

In addition, the standards are being published in a "first edition" to allow for further revisions over the next nine months, based on recommendations by school-district personnel. A second edition will be published in early 1986.

Both the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association have endorsed the standards.

Tied to Statewide Tests

The new standards will be tied to content items on statewide tests that are being developed for grades 8, 10, and 12; to the statewide adoption of textbooks; to the state board's model graduation requirements; and to the state's new accountability program for schools.

In addition, the standards bill requires local boards of education to compare their school systems' course content and sequence with the model standards not less than every three years.

According to Mr. Honig, the standards are a "general statement of quality" and of "what we think is professionally proper." The standards, he said, "should start a process by which a local district takes a look at what it's doing." But the actual content and teaching methods, he added, are "up to the creativity of the teacher."

A 'Need To Be Connected'

The standards reflect growing public and professional support for a core curriculum, according to David W. Gordon, associate superintendent for curriculum instruction. In particular, he said, "people really understand and sympathize with the notion that all kids need to be connected to their culture, to the past, and to their responsibilities as citizens."

However, critics are concerned that the standards may be "too difficult" and will be attainable only by the college-bound, according to Sandee J. Boese, president of the California Board of Education.

But Ms. Boese maintained that the standards are intended for all students. "We're just setting higher standards" she said, "and we're expecting students to perform."

Hard To Implement

The model standards have been received enthusiastically by a number of California's big-city school officials, who say that high expectations are particularly important for urban youths. Thomas W. Payzant, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, cautions, however, that implementing the standards will require a great deal of money for textbooks, staff development, new assessment tools, and supplementary materials.

"I am concerned about the financial commitment to implement what basically I think is a good idea," he said.

For a copy of the model standards, write to David W. Gordon, associate superintendent, division of curriculum and instruction, California Department of Education, 721 Capitol Mall, Room 556, Sacramento, Calif. 95814.

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