BEACON FALLS — It’s always good to stay ahead of the curve.
Woodland Regional High School is proving that statement true as high schools across the state begin to prepare for the implementation of new state-mandated high school graduation requirements.
Public Act No. 10-111 will make all Connecticut public high schools, effective at the inception of the Class of 2018, subject to new, stricter credit requirements.
The act was signed into law by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in May, and since then Woodland and Region 16 officials have been planning for the change and assessing where they stand in regards to the new requirements.
It turns out WRHS’s administrators are standing in a good place.
The mandate requires a minimum of 25 credits for students to graduate—something that Woodland, unlike many schools across the state, already hold its students to. Woodland’s current graduation requirements do fall short of those set forth by the state in both math and world languages, but upon further research into students’ records, administrators found the predicament to be less significant than it might seem at first glance.
Woodland administrators pulled the transcripts of the 2010 graduating class to ascertain how many students, of their own volition, took the minimum number of credits in each subject. They also found how many students would have fallen short of the state requirements, had they been in place for the 2010 class.
“This study shows us a great deal about where we are,” said Woodland Principal Dr. Arnold Frank. “There’s a lot of good news on this report. The thing that stands out to me, the thing that’s really unbelievable, is that of our 199 graduates, 133 [67 percent] of them had more than 27.5 credits.”
Additionally, even though the new mandate requires four years of math and Woodland has only been requiring three, 73 percent of students received credit for four years in the subject area.
Another gleaming positive, administrators said, is that 84 percent of students received credit for two years of world language, which will be the new requirement as of 2014. Woodland had not been requiring its students to take any foreign languages.
A block schedule was implemented upon the inception of Woodland and allows students to take a total of 32 classes over four years. The schedule, accompanied by students’ drive to go above and beyond basic requirements, administrators said, puts the school in the comfortable situation it’s in now.
According to Woodland’s newly-appointed Assistant Principal Dana Mulligan, who previously held the same position at Hamden High School, not all high schools are as prepared for the new requirements as Woodland is.
“I can say coming from another district, we are in excellent shape compared to many, many other districts,” Mulligan said. “Tons of other districts are in a complete panic right now.”
Frank acknowledged that Woodland is in good shape, but did not ignore the fact that improvements need to be made in certain subject areas.
“We are in phenomenal shape compared to what I’m hearing around the state. I’m hearing people are very worried,” Frank said. “The 25-credit requirement was already there. That’s huge. That being said, the issues we have are math and world languages.”
The topic has become a standing agenda item since the law was passed and a monthly meeting involving all Region 16 secondary-school principals and Superintendant Jim Agostine has been held.
The idea of awarding credit in these subjects at the middle school level has been discussed. The state has yet to make a ruling on whether it would accept middle school-level credits.
“The most significant difference between where we’re at and where we need to be is math,” Frank said. “There were 27 percent of students who graduated with less than four credits. The big thing is, the question remains whether or not eighth-grade algebra will be able to count as high school credit.”
That allowance would be beneficial to Woodland, as 16 percent of last year’s graduates completed Algebra 1 at Long River Middle School.
The same has been asked about world language, another subject offered at the middle-school level.
“Again, the question comes, do we offer credit for world language in seventh and eighth grades,” Frank said. “That’s a discussion I’m sure we’ll be having throughout the year.”
The preparation and adjustments for mandatory credit levels does not take into consideration the exit exams that the state will mandate in several classes such as algebra, geometry, English, history and biology.
The general consensus of the school board is that students can sit in their classes for 120 hours throughout the year and receive passing grades, but if they don’t pass the various exit exams they will not earn the credits.
The state will be generating the standardized tests according to the desired, state-mandated proficiency level. The state will provide each school with the tests at the beginning of each school year beginning in 2014.
The state has not made mandated the use of any related curriculum, but Mulligan sees the move to subject-specific standardized testing as a detriment to the school’s ability to use its own curriculum.
“You don’t need to use the curriculum they suggest,” Mulligan said. “What they do is say, ‘Here is the test at the end, here is what students are going to need to know when they finish this course.’ In order to pass their test you’re going to have to use their curriculum.”
The change in curriculum would come just as Woodland approaches the point where, after years of hard work, it has a curriculum to call its own.
“We’re finally at the point in the high school were we have caught up and the curriculum we have written now is really ours,” Frank said. “It’s a huge job and it’s taken us many years and now it may have to change.”
Woodland may be fortunate that the curriculum is all they have to change. Schools across the state will be changing to the block schedule that Woodland has been using and hoping to make drastic changes in the coming years.
Region 16 school board members welcome the position that Woodland is in, but state firmly that they would like to see the school stay ahead of the rest, because being ahead put them in the position they are in now.
“We’re in such good shape because we implemented these things when we started the school eight years ago,” said Priscilla Cretella, vice chairwoman of the Region 16 Board of Education. “I’m hoping now that this school will not coast and still project a little more, because for eight years we’ve been ahead of the curve, and I’d like to see us stay ahead of the curve. Yes, there is a lot we have to conform to, but I think there are ways that, with the staff we have, we can move ahead. We’re showing right now with where we are in regards to this issue why it is very important to stay ahead.”