Grads' requirements tabled amid concerns

Posted: Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education has delayed action on most proposed changes to graduation requirements for students.

The board has been discussing possible changes to the number and type of credits students must earn for graduation since last month. The idea behind the changes was to allow for more flexibility in student and school scheduling and to move the district toward standards-based requirements.

However, school board and community members alike had several concerns about the proposed changes. Among them were worries that elimination of arts requirements would lead to the elimination of arts classes and concerns that the district would be "dumbing down" education by requiring fewer credits for graduation.

After an hour-long work session and a handful of public comments Monday, board members decided most of the changes would require more time and thought.

Originally, administrators proposed changes that would reduce the number of required credits from 22 to 21 to match state law and do away with the four-year time requirement for graduation. Also proposed was an elimination of practical and creative arts requirements (practical arts in-clude shop, auto mechanics and welding, while creative arts are dance, painting and sculpture), reduce the physical education requirement from one credit to a half credit and provide an option for students to take only two credits of math rather than three if one of those credits included advanced algebra.

Community members and students objected to the changes at the board's December meeting, raising concerns specifically about the elimination of arts requirements. School board members also were torn on the idea of reducing the total number of credits for high school graduation.

The administration brought a revised proposal back to the board Monday, returning the total number of required credits to 22 and reinstating the arts requirements, though at a lower level than currently mandated. The elimination of a time requirement also remained in the proposal.

Board members, however, re-mained divided in their opinions on the changes.

For example, several raised concerns about the reduction of physical education requirements.

"In this era of obesity, dropping the requirement is not a good message to be sending," said Margaret Gilman.

Nels Anderson had concerns about dropping the time requirement.

"The more I think about it, the more I have a problem with the fact that students can graduate in three years," he said.

Assistant superintendent Sam Stewart said the change would be philosophical.

"If we're truly going to be standards-based, we have to get rid of the seat time," he said. "It's a fundamental change."

However, Anderson said, the district needs to have stronger standards in line for standards-based education before making that change.

Anderson also said that if the board is going to change graduation requirements, he wants to look at a wider range of issues, including the roles of citizenship classes, ethics and logic in public education.

"I don't think we're ready to vote on this," he said. "There are a whole bunch of issues that haven't been thrown in."

The board concurred, voting 6-1 to postpone discussions of all but one proposed change until after the budget cycle is finished. Debbie Holle cast the one dissenting vote, explaining she wanted deal with all the requirements at once rather than taking a piecemeal approach. Board members Sammy Crawford and Sunni Hilts were absent.

The one change that did pass, also with a 6-1 vote, was the alteration of the science requirement. Students currently are required to take three credits of science. That mandate will remain, with the added condition that those credits must include one credit of life science, such as biology, and one credit of physical science, such as chemistry.

The change to the science requirement was proposed by the science curriculum committee last year and was the only change school board members said made requirements more stringent. Administrators asked the school board to take action on the science change even if other changes were postponed, as it will apply to this year's freshman class.

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