JSD may change graduation requirements

Proposal would require class of 2016 to have 23 credits to earn diploma

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011

The Juneau School District’s Graduation Readiness Task Force has finished a list of graduation requirement changes which, if adopted, will align Juneau with college entrance requirements in the rest of Alaska, Washington state and many other places. The changes are also aimed at ensuring students have career readiness skills and do not need to take remedial courses in math and English just to qualify for a college.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling, the committee’s facilitator, said several years ago the district looked into changing graduation requirements, but felt at that time students had what they needed to succeed.

Testing data has shown otherwise, with 21 percent of college students requiring remediation in English and/or math upon entering college. According to data from the University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau graduates enroll in developmental classes with 52 percent needing English, and 45 percent needing math.

District testing results also show a need for the change, with 29 percent of all 10th through 12 grade students at Juneau-Douglas High School not meeting proficiency in reading, 42 percent not meeting writing and 41 percent not meeting math in the fall of 2009. Spring results were slightly better, with 16 percent not meeting reading, 34 percent not meeting writing and 23 percent not meeting math.

Thunder Mountain High School’s results across the different categories weren’t as complete. In fall 2009, 30 percent of 11th-graders were not proficient in writing and 36 percent of all grades were not proficient in math.

Spring 2010 results showed 16 percent of all grades were not proficient in reading, 37 percent in writing and 27 percent in math.

Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School’s results fared worse than the other high schools. In the fall 2009 report, 50 percent of all grades were not proficient in reading, 65 percent in writing and 68 percent in math.

In spring of 2010, 59 percent of all grades were not testing proficient at reading, 72 percent in writing and 86 percent in math.

Scandling also pointed out students who take remedial courses in college pay for the courses, but they don’t get college credit for completing them. If Juneau graduates don’t have to take remedial courses by being well prepared, it will save them hundreds in tuition, she said.

Data has also shown Juneau students need to perform better on the national Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, test. At the second-grade level, fewer than 40 percent of students are reading at grade level and slightly more than 30 percent are doing math at grade level. At the 10th grade level, more than 60 percent are reading at grade level and 65 percent are doing math at grade level.

Juneau also has some of the lowest graduation requirements in the state — including requiring only 21.5 credits to graduate. Anchorage and Fairbanks require 22.5, while Craig and Cordova demand 25 credits.

But, as the task force has researched, it’s not about how many credits students take, it’s about quality of instruction so students learn keystone skills such as cognitive mastery, content knowledge, academic behaviors and contextual knowledge.

Credits do matter to colleges, which also have been steadily increasing standards.

Currently, JSD requires four credits of English, two credits of science, three credits of social studies, no world language credits, one fine arts credit, two math credits, one world of work credit, half a fitness concept credit, one physical education credit, half a health course credit and six and a half electives.

If a student were to simply follow Juneau’s graduation requirements, it would be more difficult for them to be accepted into college, and they would likely have to take remedial college courses.

District data has also shown most students are already taking more than the required courses in core areas.

The governor’s new Performance Scholarship also requires a much more rigorous course outline.

The task force has proposed changes to the graduation requirements to align with college standards and expectations, along with the Governor’s Performance Scholarship. It has recommended making these changes in two phases, with a new set of requirements for those set to graduate in 2013, and increasing requirements for those graduating in 2016.

By 2016, students will be required to have two additional years of science and math and two years of a world language, heritage language or American sign language. Under the proposal, most of the World of Work credits would be shifted to eighth grade, and fitness concepts and physical education would be changed so students not taking PE would have to participate in some kind of physical activity. Elective requirements would decrease to 3.5 credits. The changes would bring the credit requirement up to 23 by 2016.

Scandling said the need for changes isn’t unique to Juneau — it’s a nationwide issue, and even international.

“We’re not alone, this is national,” she said. “When you have up to 30 percent of kids in community colleges needing remediation it’s an issue. It’s still our issue. It’s a big deal.”

Raising math standards, for example, isn’t solely for the college track-minded students, it also plays a big role in technical careers like plumbing and pipe fitting, Scandling said.

“Regardless of what you want to choose after you’re through with high school, you need to have a big breadth of choices,” she said. “Some concerns I’ve heard from the math department at JDHS, they expressed concern that those who already struggle in math will have an even greater challenge. Some comments like that have been shared. We want to make sure kids have the support to be successful and graduate on time.”

The language requirement change will be the biggest challenge for the district to implement. She said if every current sophomore wanted to take a foreign language their junior year and senior year, the district currently cannot handle it. There aren’t enough foreign language teachers in the district.

Scandling said they will need to take a careful look at endorsements and pathways. She said they need to make sure that students can still participate in those programs by making sure courses in those programs fit the bill for graduation requirements. She said if a student is taking an engineering course for an endorsement that course should count as an applied math credit.

The district will hold a public information meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Thunder Mountain High School. Scandling said there will be a presentation on what the changes are about, and an opportunity for questions and to welcome feedback so changes can be made to the recommendations.

The proposal document can be found at: http://bit.ly/gTuLa5

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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