Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Board looks to alter graduation credits

High school students would be required to pass three math courses and two lab science classes under a new proposal

By Mary Vorsino


Every public high school student in Hawaii would have to pass geometry and complete two lab sciences under more rigorous graduation requirements proposed as the state Department of Education continues to fine-tune its diploma policy.

But the department is no longer pushing for all students to take Algebra 2 and wants to cut to three from four the number of social studies credits needed for graduation.

Under the proposal before a Board of Education committee today, high school students, beginning with the class of 2018, would have to pass at least three math courses — including Algebra 1 and geometry or an equivalent course — and two lab science classes. They would also have to earn four English credits, including one in expository writing.

The requirements are tougher than those for the current standard diploma, but less than what is needed to secure the optional "recognition" diploma.

Education officials say the proposed graduation policy will create a more rigorous high school experience while also addressing concerns that higher standards — and more required credits — could set struggling students up for failure.

The proposal, which will be presented to the board's Student Achievement Committee this morning, was drawn up by the department after administrators reviewed college admissions requirements and talked to principals. If the committee approves the proposal, it will go to the full board, probably next month.


The Board of Education’s student achievement committee will discuss proposed changes to graduation requirements today at 8 a.m. at the Liliuokalani Building, 1390 Miller St., Room 404. For more information, call 586-3334 or go to

Clayton Kaninau, acting director of the department's curriculum and instruction branch, said the diploma would give students more flexibility to decide what kind of courses they will need to reach their goals, while ensuring everyone has a strong high school foundation regardless of whether they plan to go to college.

Adopting a "college-and-career-ready" diploma was one of the state's key education reform pledges, and comes amid a nationwide push to toughen graduation standards.

At the same time, there has been a national debate on the value of requiring Algebra 2, with some saying it is needed for today's competitive work force and others arguing alternative courses are more useful for students not heading to college.

So far, 20 states and the District of Columbia have approved or implemented more rigorous graduation requirements, according to Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based education reform nonprofit group.

Two of those states have not required Algebra 2.

Sandy Boyd, Achieve's vice president, said the college-and-career-ready diploma should require "challenging mathematics through advanced algebra," which is typically called Algebra 2.

"To require students to take less than that, it's less likely they'll be prepared," Boyd said.

The department has been working to toughen graduation standards for nearly a year, as part of statewide efforts to boost student achievement and improve schools through the next decade. The current diploma policy requires three credits of math, but does not spell out what courses students must take. It also requires three credits of science, but doesn't mandate any lab sciences.

The department had originally proposed requiring all students to earn a diploma similar to the current recognition diploma, which required at least 25 credits, including one each for Algebra 2 and a senior project.

In April, citing strong concerns, the elected Board of Education rejected that proposal, instead opting for a two-track diploma that allows students to choose the tougher college-and-career-ready requirements or those without higher-level math and science courses.

The new appointed board took up the issue again last month. Board members said they wanted a single diploma standard and agreed it should be rigorous, but expressed concerns about the Algebra 2 and senior project requirements.

Department officials said they decided to abandon plans to require Algebra 2 because the course would not benefit all students. Under the proposal, students could take Algebra 2 as their third math credit or another course, still being developed, that will incorporate Algebra 2 concepts.

The new diploma proposal also decreases the number of required social studies credits to three from four, which the department said could result in a cut in the number of social studies teachers. Officials also said the three-credit requirement is in line with other states. The first revamped diploma proposal included four social studies credits.

The new proposal drew concern from social studies educators, who were rallying support against the change on a Facebook page and planning to attend the board meeting today.

Decreasing the number of required social studies credits "does not seem to be a forward-thinking move," said Jeff Moniz, director of the secondary program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Institute for Teacher Education and chairman of the Teacher Education Committee for Social Studies at UH-Manoa. "This proposal disturbs me."

Social studies teacher Amy Perruso agreed, saying that social studies isn't just about history, but about teaching critical thinking.

"We believe a broader education is better," she said. "Students need to have the breadth so that they really understand how the social sciences can help shape their understanding of the world."

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