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State pushes school 24-credit minimum

A movement among Washington education leaders proposes high school students complete 24 credits for a diploma.

But the plan, not yet required by state law and with no funding, has local school leaders wondering how it's going to work and who will pay for it.

Core 24, also called the "Meaningful Diploma" proposal, would require each high school student in the state to complete 24 credits in one of three tracks: a "college emphasis" track, a "college and career ready" track and a "career emphasis" track.

Proponents of the plan say Core 24 ups the rigor of high school coursework for university-minded youths while still maintaining some flexibility for students interested in vocational trades.

Bill Bentley, Sequim schools superintendent, said the plan is a misguided attempt at education reform. Core 24, he says, is shaped much more for college-bound students and actually limits the options students have.

"I don't think we want to limit the number of pathways (for students)," Bentley says. "We need people with all sets of skills. (This may) push more students away from us than to us."

Core 24 also would create scheduling and staffing problems across the board, Bentley says.



A four- or seven-period day?

When Bentley was in school, he and classmates took seven classes each day. Washington and other states' education leaders pushed for more six-period days in order to get more time in each class.

With a 24-credit requirement, most schools would likely revert back to the old seven-period system, creating massive scheduling changes and - with the new Core 24 requirements - necessitate additional staff.

Another option, Bentley said, is to go to a four-period day with each class in a semester counting as a full credit, for a total of 32 credits by the end of high school.

Either way, he says, there's no way to pay for those changes now.

"Right now the state's not funding what we have," Bentley said. "I'd love to see additional courses. We're just going to need some help paying for those."

Core 24 would require each student to take career concentration courses at the high school, something Sequim students can do now if they choose through some vocation classes at the main campus and at the Skills Center in Port Angeles.



More stringent graduation requirements

Core 24 was developed after two years of research and discussion among the Washington State Board of Education, educators and the public.

The last time the state board formally reviewed graduation requirements was 25 years ago, but plenty has changed for high school students since then. In recent years the state has demanded more math classes from its pupils and the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in addition to its 19-credit requirement.

"It seems like every year we're doing something to tweak our graduation requirements," Bentley said.

Sequim, like many other school districts in the state, already has tougher graduation requirements, from a 22-credit minimum to a full four credits of English, a senior project and more.

"If you graduate from Sequim High School, you've worked hard," said Shawn Langston, Sequim High School principal.

Langston says some of the state educator's plans - such as the one mandating students follow a math sequence of algebra I, algebra II and geometry - doesn't work for all students.

With Core 24 and a standard six-period day, a student would have to pass all six classes all four years to graduate.

All others would have to make up classes in summer school or in a zero-hour class.

"We've got to think about our entire student population," Bentley said.

Added Langston: "Philosophically I like the idea of rigor in a high school, but I feel like we do (have that already)."

Langston said he doesn't think Core 24 will pass anyway, without any funding behind it.



Core 24's core ideas

According to the state board of education, 77 percent of all family-wage jobs will require some college or technical training by 2014.

Core 24 supporters point to this statistic and others in pushing for high school graduation requirement reform.

"We have to answer the question, 'Is the state requiring the right credits for a graduation diploma in the 21st century?'" said Steve Dal Porto, state board of education member, vice chairman and one of the leaders of the Core 24 Implementation Task Force.

At the earliest, and only with necessary funding, the new graduation requirements would go into effect for the graduating class of 2017.

Core 24 requirements bring high school graduation requirements into closer (but not exact) alignment with the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board's recently revised minimum college admission standards.

Both sets of requirements call for two years of a lab science and one algebra-based science course.



Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.





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