Monday, December 30, 2013

Kansas unlikely to change graduation requirements due to Common Core

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

Students throughout Kansas are now being taught English and math according to the Common Core standards, which are supposed to ensure that they're ready for college or the workplace by the time they graduate.

But in Kansas and most other states that have adopted the Common Core, there is still no requirement for students to prove they've met those standards in order to earn a diploma.

And officials at the Kansas State Department of Education say that's not likely to change anytime soon.

“We've never had that conversation in Kansas,” said Brad Neuenswander, deputy education commissioner for learning services. “Some states (such as New York) require passing a state assessment by your senior year to graduate. We've never had that here. Kansas has always based their grad requirements on earning a level of credit, which means you have to have successfully completed so many credits of math, language arts, science, history and government.”

But some groups are now urging states to align their graduation requirements with those same "college- and career-ready" academic standards. One of those groups is Achieve, the nonprofit organization that helped write those standards in the first place.

Last month, Achieve published a report showing only 11 of the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core have fully aligned their graduation requirements to go along with them, and 13 others have partially aligned their requirements.

Kansas is among the 22 states that "lack corresponding graduation requirements that match the expectations of new standards.

“This misalignment means that students may graduate unprepared for college and careers since they will not have taken courses that deliver the (college- and career-ready) standards or demonstrated their mastery of the (standards) through competency-based methods,” the organization said.

Kansas currently requires students to earn at least 21 high school credits in order to graduate. Those must include at least four credits in English language arts, and three credits each in math, science and social studies, and one unit of physical education.

Most individual districts, including Lawrence, have additional requirements beyond the state's minimum standards. Lawrence, for example, requires an additional half credit of social studies and 1.5 credits of elective courses, for a minimum total of 23 credits.

One thing that has been talked about is changing the way students can earn those credits by allowing different courses or experiences to count toward those requirements, Neuenswander said

“In career and tech ed, for example, a student may be exposed to a lot of the geometry in a particular class that you would otherwise get in a regular geometry class,” he said. “So it may be a matter of how can kids earn those credits differently than the traditional route.”

Some districts are now asking for waivers so they can determine for themselves what constitutes a credit. Those requests are being filed under a new state law that allows up to 10 percent of the state's districts, or 29 in all, to be considered "innovative districts" and exempt themselves from most state laws and regulations governing K-12 education.

The state education agency, however, has little say in deciding which districts will qualify for those exemptions, and officials say it's unclear whether graduation requirements are among those regulations that can be waived.