The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is holding 10 regional forums starting today to get feedback on proposed changes to high school graduation requirements that would put greater emphasis on math, social studies and science instead of electives.
The High School Task Force, a 25-member committee consisting of education, business and labor representatives, recommended that graduation requirements increase from 22 to 24 credits, according to a press release from task force chairman Jerry Valentine. One unit equals one yearlong class.
“This general issue of high school reform is a hot topic nationally,” said Jim Morris, spokesman for the Education Department. “It’s been 20 years since the last changes in requirements, and we felt it was time to re-evaluate our standards.”
Morris said the meetings would allow the task force to get feedback from educators and community leaders that could modify the proposal. The task force wants the community to understand the rationale for these proposals, Morris said.
The new requirements would add one unit in communication arts, social studies, mathematics and science, and a half-unit in health education.
The increase in credits was one of three recommendations made by the task force in its proposal, dated April 22. The other two are replacing the Missouri Assessment Program exam with a new “exit test” and moving to a two-tiered diploma where students could earn a standard or advanced degree.
The graduation requirement proposal includes dropping the current standard of 10 electives. The new standards say students would only need 7½ units of elective credit.
The new exit test would replace the current MAP tests used to assess student achievement and meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The exam would be required in the 11th grade, and there would not be a state-mandated passing score. The test would have to meet the demands of the federal act. The exit test would still be used for college entry purposes, like the SAT or ACT, Morris said.
“Perhaps multiple levels of scores could be used to evaluate students’ progress and degree of proficiency,” Morris said. “If we decide to pursue that test, it is not something that will happen quickly, maybe in a year of two. We would have to do test designs, and there would be a number of hurdles we would have to get over.”
The task force’s third proposal was for public schools to adopt a two-tiered diploma. Under the proposal, students who earn 22 units of credit would qualify for a standard diploma, while students who earn 24 credits and a specific exit exam score would receive an advanced diploma.
Ann Landes, director of guidance at Hickman High School, said she would not be opposed to an advanced diploma, but would be opposed to raising graduation requirements for all students.
Landes said some Hickman students struggle to meet current requirements, while others could go beyond them. As of right now, students at Hickman can take up to seven units per school year. If students would take advantage of that, at the end of four years they could have earned 28 units.
Landes said students who take it upon themselves to earn more than 22 credits should be able to earn an advanced diploma.
As for the exit-test proposal, Landes is not in favor of it.
“I think it would be difficult to establish a test that would be good for all students across the board,” she said. “The exit-test idea has been attempted before, about 20 years ago with a test called ‘The Best Test,’ ” she said.
Students started taking the test in ninth grade, and they had to pass all sections of it before they graduated. If they did not pass a section, they would retake that section the following year.
“The test was an organizational nightmare,” she said. “They decided to abandon the idea by the time those ninth-graders were seniors.”