New Requirements for Graduation?
Competency Based Education Raises Controversy in School Districts
"Performance Plus," the new program proposed by the Utah State Board of Education was introduced to the Carbon, Emery, and Sanpete school districts recently.
Dixie Allen, the state representative for Eastern Utah and Patrick Ogden, the Assistant Superintendent presented the program to parents, teachers, principals and other education professionals.
The program's main goal is to tighten graduation requirements to make high school juniors and seniors more productive. Utah's third, fifth, eighth and eleventh graders beat the national average on the Stanford Achievement Test, but Allen was quick to point out that although the state as a whole is doing well, there are still individual strengths and weaknesses. There are 30,000 students who read below their grade level. This program has been designed to meet the needs of each individual student. All students regardless of limits will receive a good basic education.
The proposed changes in graduation requirements are: three language arts, 2.5 social science (down from three), two mathematics, two science, 1.5 arts, one physical education (down from 1.5), one applied technology, .5 computer technology, one health (up from .5), no electives (down from nine, will be left up to district to decide how many are required), and three core focused electives (new).
Allen stressed that the electives had not been eliminated but will be up to each individual district to decide what is required of students. The changes will not affect release time programs.
The program will depend on the student's ability to show competency in each area. The suggested ways to demonstrate competency are to achieve a grade of C or better, and pass the end of course exam with a substantial score; or to earn an A in the class and take the final exam.
If a student cannot demonstrate competency, the system will provide intervention to help the student. Intervention will be available through tutoring, before or after school classes, summer classes and supplemental classes. This will help to reduce the need for remediation. The board would like to spend their money on intervention instead of remediation.
The program will also require exit competencies in writing, reading, research, technical math, communication and service.
For the average student this program will not show much change. For the challenged student however, more help will be available. For the advanced students, they will have the opportunity to advance to higher grades sooner, and explore more electives or graduate early.
The basic budget breakdown for the program is: $121,450,000 for assessment; $190,215,700 for intervention/remediation; $80,741,600 for qualified teachers; $500,000 for other outside evaluation. That brings the total amount needed to $392,907,300. The board will be asking the legislature for $150,000,000 in new funding. This is about a 10 percent increase in Utah's public education budget. This increase would still leave Utah in last place for money spent on education.
They are anticipating starting the program in 2004. The board has held public meetings for each school district in the state to get feedback on the program. A meeting will be held this month to review all public input and refine the proposal as necessary.
The presentation was then opened to the public for questions and comments. There were concerns that if the program is started in all levels of education at the same time, those that are in high school and are behind will require much more work of teachers, counselors and tutors to catch up than those that are in elementary. This could cause an increase in drop out rates. Educators are already "maxed out" and don't have time to have break-out groups. It was suggested that the program be phased in, starting in the elementary schools and then working it into the higher education. There will be a need for more counselors in the schools to help guide students. There was a strong agreement among all present that this program absolutely should not be implemented without the proper funding. There was some concern over AP testing, which is only offered in the spring. If students are encouraged to graduate early, where will this leave AP programs? There would be a need to regulate C grade standards statewide.
There are no foreign language requirements, because it is not reasonable for all students. The district can add that if they wish. Parents and counselors would be responsible to find out if the college that the student wishes to attend requires foreign language or not. Teachers wanted to know who would be responsible for tracking the students grades and competency scores. This would fall on the teachers and the administration would be responsible to avoid grade inflation. It was also suggested that the board try a pilot program first.
Allen made it very clear that no existing funding has been cut or offered to be cut to the legislature, only identified as existing funds.
It was also brought to the attention of the board that they are ignoring the right of the parent and student to "choose" to do well. There are several programs available to students now, including the ability to obtain college credits and graduate high school with a college degree, that are not being taken advantage of. "Kids will be kids, and do not realize what is being offered to them," said Allen. The board cannot make the students excel. They still have a choice. Education is more than what happens at school. A students environment at home and outside of school affects them as much as what goes on while they are in school. Parents still must be responsible for their children.
Other states have programs similar to this one, that are doing very well, but Utah would be the first state-wide program.
There are a lot of areas of the program that have not been well discussed, and educators would like to receive more information before approving it.
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