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After Arduous Process, Mo. Board Approves 75 Academic Standards

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After months of revisions and rewriting, the Missouri state school board has adopted 75 new academic standards despite criticism that they give too much power to the state and are still too vague.

The board voted 8-0 this month to adopt the so-called "Show Me" standards--a list of what students should know and be able to do upon graduation.

Missouri's process of adopting school standards has been among the nation's most arduous, marked by repeated attempts to make them easy for parents and educators to understand. Gov. Mel Carnahan echoed the call of a group of lawmakers, business executives, and civic leaders last spring when he sent the standards' writers back to the drawing board in search of less "educatorese."

But reaction to the final version has remained decidedly mixed.

"I've been practicing law for 20 years, and I know meaningless gobbledygook when I see it," said Robert Wise, a Kansas City lawyer. "I think in five, 10, or 20 years we could be teaching anything at all, and it would come under these guidelines." Others were more satisfied as they spoke at a public hearing earlier this month.

David Stanley, the chief executive officer of Payless Cashways, a retail chain, and a chairman of an education committee of the Kansas City Civic Council, said he supported the standards. He said many job applicants lack critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

New Curriculum Next

The standards spell out in great detail what is expected of public school students by high school graduation. They include four broad goals as well as standards for six specific subject areas: communications arts, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, and health and physical education.

The goals stipulate that, by high school graduation, all of Missouri's public school students will:

  • Acquire the knowledge and skills to gather, analyze, and apply information and ideas;
  • Be prepared to communicate effectively within and beyond the classroom;
  • Be able to recognize and solve problems; and
  • Be able to make decisions and act as responsible members of society.

Under the umbrella of the broad goals, specific skills and objectives are spelled out in a manner intended to dodge jargon.

Under the fourth goal, for example, the document states that students should be able to "understand and apply the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in Missouri and the United States."

But the document also calls for students to be able to "identify tasks that require a coordinated effort and work with others to complete those tasks."

The standards-writing exercise was mandated by a 1993 law that reformed the state's school-finance system.

Later this year, the state board is expected to adopt a new curriculum based on the standards. Local schools will not be required to adopt the curriculum and may even draft their own in accordance with the new standards.

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