State history is now mandatory course

Education board approves course, will develop standards over the next year

Posted: Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The state Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to require high school students across the state to study Alaska history before graduating.

School districts have two options. Students entering high school in 2005 must take a semester course or they must show proficiency in state history standards before graduating in 2009.

In a separate motion, the board directed Education Commissioner Jim Sampson to develop the Alaska history standards that will be required learning, according to Department of Education spokesman Harry Gamble.

"It's the first time the state Board of Education has adopted a specific course requirement," Gamble said.

The Department of Education will develop the standards over the next year and return to the state board for adoption, Gamble said. He said the state also could develop a test to assess students' knowledge of the subject for school districts that do not require the course.

"A school board would develop a curriculum from the standards," Gamble said.

Gamble said the standards could align closely with a curriculum developed this year by the Alaska Humanities Forum.

Gamble said on Tuesday the board also approved an exemption for students who transfer to Alaska after their second year of high school and for those who transfer and already have completed a state history course from another state.

Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said she has not yet discussed the decision with the Juneau School Board. The board's social studies committee will provide the board with a recommendation on how to incorporate the new credit requirement with the district's credit requirements.

"The district will continue to work with its social studies curriculum committee and have a recommendation from them to the board," Cowan said.

The Juneau School Board has a variety of options to deal with the credit requirement, according to board member Robert Van Slyke. He said the district already requires completion of a certain number of social studies courses to graduate. Alaska history could take the place of one of those courses or an elective.

"Or the district could increase the number of credits required for graduation," he said.

Regardless of the logistics, Van Slyke said he supports making the course mandatory.

"It's important that if people have been citizens here, they need to have some background in what has occurred in the development of the state," Van Slyke said.

Esther Cox, a member of the state Board of Education, said the Alaska Humanities Forum's development of an optional curriculum and teacher training program was key to her voting for the state mandate.

"You don't have to use that course and you don't have to have your teachers trained (in the curriculum), but it is available," she said.

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