State mandates new graduation standards

Sweeping new state legislation intended to reform public education could cause big headaches for local students and administrators when it comes to graduation requirements.

Public Act No. 10-111, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law in late May, mandates all Connecticut public high schools, effective at the inception of the Class of 2018, be subject to a new, stricter credit requirement. The new state mandate is unfunded.

The state is tightening graduation requirements for public high schools.

A minimum of 25 credits will be required to graduate. The breakdown of credits will be a minimum of four in English, three in social studies, one human elective, one fine art, four math, three science, one engineering/technology, three and a half physical education or career and life skills, two world language and one senior project.

One credit is earned for the successful completion of a full-year course in a given subject area.

Woodland Regional High School does require 25 credits for graduation, but the current course requirements do not meet the new state requirements in the subjects of math, science, fine arts, engineering/technology and senior project.

Some categories look to be an easy fix for Region 16 administrators, while other subjects, such as math and world language, could cause considerable problems.

“It’s in math and world languages where we could see big problems,” WRHS Principal Arnold Frank said. “We’re going to have to figure a lot of thing out in this category.”

Currently, WRHS requires only three years of math and has no language requirement at all.

Fortunately for Region 16, when WRHS was incorporated, it implemented a school-mandated 25 credits for graduation. This mandate was not yet required by the state, but was set forth by the school itself. Because of this, the school has sufficient staffing to accommodate the new law—just not in the right fields.

“The total staffing, full-time equivalent, is fine; it’s the redistribution we need to focus on,” Superintendent of Schools James C. Agostine said. “We need to do some redistribution in programming. We have to readjust our staffing so that we have enough math sections to make this all happen.”
There is limited room to move current staff around because of the stringent certifications required of high school instructors. Administrators may be forced to lay off some teachers and add new ones.

“Subjects at the high-school level require certificates,” said Agostine. “We can’t just take someone from, say, an elective position and make them a math teacher. You have to lay off a position and add a new math position.”

WRHS’s requirement of 3.5 social studies credits exceeds the new state requirement of three. Also, they meet the new state requirements in English and human electives.

The situation would have been much graver had WRHS been forced to add supplementary credits instead of redistribute the teaching staff. According to Agostine, if a school with 1,000 students—Woodland has about 800 students—were to add just one credit, eight new teaching positions would have to be created, and thus funded. Decisions made previously by the schools founders will pay dividends in the near future.

“The school was formed with great foresight,” Lisa DeGoes, Chairwoman of the Region 16 Board of Education, said. “Because we had the minimum 25-credit requirement then, we’re in good shape now,”

Frank echoed this sentiment.

“We’re in good shape right now because we already have an eight-block schedule and a 25 credit minimum,” Frank said. “We started that when we opened, Woodland and that is a benefit to us now.”

A new standard for testing
Along with the minimum required courses, the state of will be implementing a standardized test for certain subjects, which students will have to pass in order to graduate.

Some feel this step was added to counteract schools that decrease their level of instruction and allow students to pass classes at lower levels.
Although no administrators said teachers will stray away from the current curriculum, they did not completely dismiss the idea of teachers being forced to teach to the material in the standardized tests.

“Aligning your current curriculum to make sure you address those standards is really the name of the game,” Agostine said. “It’s not really teaching to the test, it’s teaching to the standard that that test is testing.”

Either way, the work load may increase for both the teacher and the student.

“You would hope that the state test is aligned with the curriculum that is in place, so you hope it’s not an issue,” Degoes said. “What we’re going to need to do is raise the bar and increase the rigor.”

The new law’s biggest burden may be placed on students, who will be expected to shoulder a heavier courseload than previous students.
Approximately 15 percent of WRHS students in years past didn’t take two years of world language, because it was not required. Now they will have to in order to graduate.

“We’re going to be asking our students who may not be strong in world language and math to possibly take a heavier load then they would have,” Frank said.” That’s going to be a big challenge for those students.”

Though the first class that will need to adhere to the new rules will be the graduating class of 2018, plans will need to be in place and budget accommodations made when the class enters the high school, in 2014. Change may be made even sooner than 2014 if Region 16 decides to start requiring students to take foreign language courses in middle school so credits can carry over to high school, which administrators hope will be allowed.

“Anytime you change credit requirements, there is usually significant impacts in programs and staffing,” Agostine said. “It sets off a whole host of things that need to be revisited and perhaps changed. Fortunately, the state put this out there with enough time for us to adjust.”

At the September Board of Education meeting, the members will look at the statistics of the graduating class of 2010 and the credits they graduated with to help administrators better understand how to adjust.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape compared to other school around the state,” Frank said. “That being said, we still have a lot to think about and work to do before this all comes to fruition.”