California’s top education policymakers have unveiled the state’s proposed first set of academic standards for high school students in a cooperative effort to raise achievement and relieve the burden on colleges to provide remedial education.
As the state moves closer to implementing standards for all students by 1998, as mandated by the legislature, educators are preparing for an extended debate over what students need to know.
State schools chief Delaine Eastin and California State University system Chancellor Barry Munitz this month released the draft plan for more-rigorous requirements in mathematics and English language arts.
Though a pioneer in the establishment of curriculum frameworks, this is the first stab California has made at writing statewide content standards. Frameworks provide the broad outline of what is to be taught, while standards describe what students should know and be able to do.
The proposal was crafted by the California Education Round Table, a group of educators that includes Mr. Munitz and Ms. Eastin; leaders of the University of California and the state community college systems; and representatives of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities and the California Postsecondary Education Commission.
The plan has been sent to the state commission that the legislature created last year to draft content standards in every subject and for each grade level.
The round table expects to present its final version to the state board in February.
Although the new commission will make its own recommendations to the board, its chairwoman, Ellen Wright, said the round table’s document will be one of several key resources used in the effort.
A System Drain
Earning good grades and performing well on college-entrance examinations entitle the top one-third of the state’s graduates to gain admission to the CSU system. Yet almost half of the incoming freshmen are not prepared for college courses and are routed first into remedial programs, education officials say, costing the university system $9.3 million in 1994. At some CSU and community college campuses, about 80 percent of the students require remedial assistance.
The round table has recommended that all but the students with the most severe learning disabilities complete four years of English and two years of higher-level math in order to graduate from high school. Current graduation requirements call for students to complete 24 courses, 13 of them in required subjects. The current requirements can be fulfilled through classes of varying difficulty, and the proficiency tests that most districts give are easy enough for students performing at an 8th grade level to pass.
To fulfill the two-year math requirement, “sometimes kids take things called ‘business math’ or ‘practical math,’” Ms. Eastin said. “It is really Mickey Mouse math. It’s not intended to give these kids the kinds of abilities they need to succeed in college or work.”
To meet the proposed English standards, students would be expected to read 25 books a year in a variety of genres; demonstrate proficiency in writing reports and essays; make oral reports; analyze and compare literary selections; and examine political literature and news reports.
In math, the standards would require students to master basic skills as well as conceptual understanding and problem-solving.
Although observers credit the draft with boosting the existing requirements, critics argue that the proposed math standards still aren’t tough enough. They do not, for instance, meet college-entrance demands, which generally call for three years of the subject. Ms. Wright said her commission would address the discrepancy.
But some school officials give the document high marks.
Drew Kravin, a mathematics and assessment specialist for Alameda County’s 18 districts, said that although the proposed math standards are weak in some areas, “this document has gone a good distance toward being specific ... about how a student can be successful in this system.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 1996 edition of Education Week as Math, English Standards Released in Calif.