High-School Academic Requirements Raised in Washington

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The Washington State Board of Education last month unanimously approved a plan to upgrade high-school graduation requirements throughout the state.

Although the board only raised the minimum number of credits required for graduation from 45 to 48, it tripled the minimum number of credits necessary in science (from 2 to 6); doubled the minimum in mathematics (from 3 to 6); called for an additional year of study in English; and required students to earn additional credits in U.S. history and government, state history, and contemporary world history.

The board also decided to require students to spend more time in physical-education classes. The new requirements will take effect with the freshman class of 1985.

The upgraded standards are "only the first step in a series of changes," according to Frank B. Brouillet, state superintendent of public instruction.

He said that the board this year worked on the "quantitative" aspect of graduation requirements--determining the minimum number of credits--and that next year the board will discuss "qualitative" issues, such as determining minimum competencies to be achieved in all grade levels. In addition, he said, next year the board may increase the number of credits required for graduation to 60.

Complaints about the new requirements have come from teachers of elective courses, particularly in the arts and humanities, who are concerned that new state mandates in mathematics and science will eliminate time for elective programs, Mr. Brouillet said.

He also indicated that there is concern that the state is compounding the shortage of mathematics and science teachers by requiring more courses in these fields. But Mr. Brouillet said that the additional shortage of teachers caused by more stringent graduation standards may focus more attention on the teacher-shortage problem.

Other Standards Action

Also in recent days, the New York State Board of Regents, following a year-long review of schools' educational objectives and activities by the state education department, began shaping proposals to raise curricular standards; the Oregon State Board of Higher Education met to take final action on a proposal that would establish minimum admission requirements at the state's four-year colleges and universities; and an Arkansas commission empowered by the state legislature to recommend new standards for public schools began meeting to prepare recommendations for presentation next March.

In New York, the department of education last year began a comprehensive review of programs and educational objectives throughout grades K-12. The department held 10 regional conferences to determine what parents, teachers, administrators, and the general public think students ought to know, as well as what values schools should emphasize.

The conferences indicated to education officials, according to Commissioner of Education Gordon M. Ambach, that they must continue to "focus on the foundation skills of computation and communication, and increase attention on speaking and listening, science, foreign language, and problem solving as well as civic values."

The board of regents is now "translating the recommendations" from those conferences into a specific action plan that is likely to include "increases in the number of courses required" as well as changes in "teacher certification and the approach to teaching subject matter," Mr. Ambach said.

Mr. Ambach will make his own recommendations to the board at its June meeting. The recommendations will include specific plans for changes in mathematics and science education as well as a proposal to require students to demonstrate proficiency in foreign language and foreign culture before they graduate from high school.

Mr. Ambach said he believed the regents' discussions would not be focused solely on high-school curricula, but would include a "comprehensive review of grades K-12."

He said that rather than simply adding "an additional course here or a course there" to improve student proficiency in the sciences at the high-school level, the regents will consider introducing a new examination at the elementary level to check student progress. The examination would be similar to those already administered in mathematics, reading, and writing in grades 3 and 6.

Current recommendations for improving foreign-language education, Mr. Ambach said, concentrate on improving the quality of programs at the junior- and senior-high-school level of study. But he noted that the ''long-range view" is to create "a large pool of students who are bilingual" and who, upon graduation from college, could teach in language programs to be established in New York's elementary schools.

Mr. Ambach said the plans being devised to improve the curriculum in the state's public schools will be "unique" because they will be "directly" linked with efforts to im-prove the curricula of public colleges and universities in the state. Mr. Ambach, who is also the state commissioner of higher education, said that New York will begin a comprehensive review of postsecondary programs next year.

In Oregon, the state board of higher education was scheduled to meet last week to take final action on two proposals that would stipulate to high-school students what courses they must take in order to be accepted for admission to the state's four-year colleges and universities.

One proposal, a slightly altered version of requirements requested by Chancellor of Higher Education William E. Davis, would require high-school students to complete four years of English, three years of mathematics, two years of science, three years of social studies, and two additional years of "other college prep" courses, prefereably in a foreign language, before being admitted to a state institution of higher education.

The state board of higher education has said it would like to phase in these proposals by 1985.

The board also considered a recently completed report by the Joint Committee on the High School/College Connection, an advisory committee with members from the state board of education, the state board of higher education, and the Oregon educational coordinating commission.

The committee recommended that by the fall of 1986 students be required to take four years of English, two years of mathematics, one year of science, and three years of social studies. Under the committee's plan, by the fall of 1987, students would have to take an additional year of both mathematics and science, plus a year's worth of courses in the visual or performing arts. By 1990, two years of foreign-language study would be required.

In Arkansas, a 15-member panel that was established by the state legislature under the Quality of Education Act of 1983 to develop new standards for Arkansas public schools held its first two meetings last month. The panel, comprising teachers, school administrators, parents, college officials, and citizens with a special interest in education, is charged by the legislature with making recommendations by Jan. 1, 1984, concerning state standards in all aspects of education, from school accreditation to graduation requirements.

Under the law, new standards for Arkansas public schools must be adopted by March 1 of next year and they must become effective by June 1, 1987, according to D.L. Pilkington, deputy director of the department of education's general division.

Vol. 02, Issue 36

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