County considers changing graduation criteria

Measure would require four more credits to earn high school diploma

August 29, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel school officials are considering whether to require four more credits for a high school diploma under a proposal aimed at helping students make the most of the four-period day that high schools began last year.

Under a plan that goes before the school board for a first look Wednesday, students would have to complete an additional period of math every other day, as well as a freshman seminar and a personal finance course that would be worth half a credit each.

Students also would have to take an additional 1.5 credits of electives and half a credit of physical education, bringing the total needed for graduation to 26 credits.

Members of the graduation requirement committee - which includes parents, teachers, students and administrators - will present their recommendations and the results of a student survey at the board meeting Wednesday.

School system officials say the change would bring requirements into line with the new four-period schedule. Students can take as many as 32 courses during their high school career, as opposed to 28 under the former seven-period schedule.

"It's an opportunity for us to look at some expansion of core course work in academic areas," said Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

Changes in graduation requirements have caused debate in other jurisdictions.

In May, Baltimore school board members reduced the required credits from 25 to 21 to discourage students from dropping out.

In Arundel, Terra Snider, the mother of two Severna Park High School students, said she was surprised that the school system did not increase the number of credits required for graduation when it established the four-period schedule.

Under the current system, her oldest daughter, who is entering her junior year, could be classified a senior with just one additional English course, she said.

"I think it's long overdue, and the current system makes no sense," she said.

Snider, founder of the Anne Arundel Coalition for Balanced Excellence in Education, which supports a well-rounded curriculum in public schools, also praised the additional physical education requirement.

"In a school in which kids are taking eight courses, it's important that they have some balance," she said.

The freshman seminar would help students make the transition to high school, said Mary Gable, director of high schools and a member of the graduation requirements committee.

It would address writing, reading, organization and other skills, she said.

More than three-quarters of 211 students surveyed at eight county high schools supported requiring such a course.

Juniors and seniors would take the course in personal finance. Two-thirds of students approved of such a course, according to the survey.

Sixty percent of the respondents thought more credits should be required for electives, and more than 40 percent agreed that more math, business and physical education courses should be offered.

Smith said that with the increased number of courses students take in four years, they also have more opportunities to make up credits if they need extra support - before they give up on school entirely.

"We want to encourage those kids not to drop out," he said.

If approved by the board, the new requirements could affect those entering high school as early as fall of next year.

The board will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the school system's central offices, 2644 Riva Road, Annapolis.

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