Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Panel advances diploma changes

A proposal to alter requirements for graduation gets preliminary approval

By Mary Vorsino


The state Department of Education would have a year to prepare for tougher graduation requirements before they went into effect for incoming ninth-graders under a Board of Education committee's recommendation.

The proposed diploma policy, for the class of 2016 and beyond, would require all public high school students to pass geometry or an equivalent course, plus at least two lab sciences.

The recommendation, which passed the board's Student Achievement Committee unanimously Tuesday, will go to the full body for a final vote in August.

The department had recommended the new diploma requirements be put into effect starting with the class of 2018.

But in response to questions from board members, schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said it would be possible — though more difficult — to implement the new diploma earlier, even though some testing and other components would not yet be in place.

The committee's recommendation came after more than four hours of discussion and testimony, during which about 20 people spoke against the revised diploma policy because it would decrease the number of required social studies credits to three from four. Students would instead get one more credit for an elective course.

Several educators said the change would almost certainly result in fewer social studies courses and teachers at schools, as students opt to take other things.

"You'll see a dramatic decrease in (social studies) enrollment," Darrel Galera, principal at Moanalua High School, told the board.

Teacher Paul Stader said social studies classes don't just cover history and government, but values and critical thinking, and are needed more than ever in today's world. "Math and science gave us the atomic bomb, but the ethics and morals of using it is what students get in social studies," he said.

The department said cutting one social studies credit and giving students one more credit for an elective will offer more flexibility.

"For those students who want more social studies, they will still have that opportunity," Matayoshi said.

In the end the committee recommended that the department's proposal to decrease the number of social studies credits remain for the full board's consideration at a meeting Aug. 16. Though several board members voiced concerns about the decrease in social studies credits, the group agreed that overall, the tougher requirements were a step in the right direction.

\The new diploma would require that all high school students pass at least three math courses — including Algebra 1 and geometry or an equivalent course — and two lab science classes. The requirements are more rigorous than those for the current standard diploma but less than what is needed to secure an optional "recognition" diploma.

The department has pledged to strengthen graduation standards as part of continuing reforms, and started more than a year ago trying to get a new diploma policy approved.

Originally the department proposed making the current recognition diploma the default, requiring all students to earn at least 25 credits, including one each for Algebra 2 and a senior project. But that plan was scrapped amid concerns the high standards would set up some students for failure and put schools in a bind since many are on six-period schedules.

The department made the new proposed graduation requirements public during the weekend, and some said that wasn't enough time to consider the policy's effect on schools before Tuesday's meeting.

Galera, chairman of the Hawaii High School Leadership Compact, said in a survey of about 30 principals, 97 percent said the decision-making process for the proposed new diploma should include more collaboration and communication.

Meanwhile, opinions were mixed on the proposed changes. About half said they would not support cutting a social studies credit, and about 47 percent supported keeping the recognition diploma.

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