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Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Setting the standard

December 5, 2001

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Setting a higher standard for high school graduation makes a lot of sense.

Kansas school administrators and high school students shouldn't be afraid of the state's plan to explore higher graduation standards.

According to state plans, simply completing 21 hours of course credit, including certain required subjects, would no longer be enough to earn a high school diploma. A new graduation requirement would make students demonstrate they've learned what was expected of them in class.

It seems reasonable enough.

In this highly competitive world, it only makes sense that a high school diploma should take on more meaning. It should be more than a certificate of attendance; it should mean that a student has mastered certain skills and is ready to go forth, find employment or seek higher education. The new graduation requirement would be intended to prove students who come out of high school are willing to take on that challenge.

State officials are looking at higher graduation requirements because they believe there is significant variation in the course work being done in high schools across the state. Their concern is a good one. The state owes it to its young people to make sure certain standards are met statewide.

The state plans to allow several options for students to prove their competence and earn their diplomas. The likely alternatives would be 1) a comprehensive exam, 2) a senior project on a single topic culminating in a thesis or 3) a portfolio covering several years' work in a broad subject area. These are all good ideas, but instituting such a diverse system likely would put more pressure on teachers who would have to supervise the exams, theses or portfolios. Given the current tight funding situation for public schools in the state, it may be impossible for teachers to give students the time needed to fill those requirements.

An official says the state department of education also is looking at ways to give students more time to complete the requirements That could include extended school days or year-round school. Clearly, either of those options would require a significant financial commitment from state taxpayers.

Whether Kansas high school graduates are going to college or entering the job market, more will be expected of them than it was a generation ago. Prospective employers need to know that a high school graduate has certain basic skills.

Many details will have to be worked out as state officials refine this plan, but the idea of setting a higher standard for high school graduation is a good one.

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