Some academic standards questions were answerable and some were not Wednesday at a regional meeting conducted by the Minnesota Department of Education at Brainerd High School.
Administrators and teachers in the Brainerd lakes area gathered in the high school's cafeteria to hear more details on standards. Sherry Grundman and Donna Oakey of the state department discussed the 2003 legislative policy changes, testing schedules and new requirements for students in language arts, mathematics and art.
One question Grundman and Oakey were unable to answer came from Jim Christenson, Crosby-Ironton Junior High School principal. He asked when the state was going to put teeth in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment mathematics tests for 11th-graders. Currently, the test scores are not held against the students.
The new standards include hundreds of concepts and facts public school students will be expected to know by the end of each grade.
The new system also includes a graduation requirement based on credits earned, either through courses taken or mastery proved in tests. Beginning with the Class of 2008, students will have to complete four credits of language arts, three credits of mathematics, 3.5 credits of social studies and eight elective credits. Science and social studies standards, part of Phase Two, will be developed this summer, but won't be ready for classrooms until the 2004-05 school year.
Schools no longer are mandated to follow the Profiles of Learning graduation rule.
Following the new graduation standards for the subjects of language arts, mathematics and art should be a breeze for most area students. Many of the area schools, including Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Little Falls and Crosby-Ironton, already follow a majority of the requirements.
Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Gary Phillips said the new state standards did not drastically change. He said, "This was more of a political movement than anything.
"On terms of what will happen in the classrooms, students will have to take more math, science and social studies," he said. "We have already moved toward doing more math and in the past few years we have seen a large increase of students interested in science.
"This will affect a small percent of kids."
One little change, Phillips said, is high school students in Brainerd now will have to take geography for a full year. Currently, 70 percent of students take geography for a full year. The rest take a semester of geography and then take another social studies course the second semester.
Mary Jo Morgan of the Little Falls School District said the school already offers music, visual arts and theater but it does not require students to take the art courses. Under the new standards in art, the high school must offer three art courses and the students are required to take one course. Middle school students must take two courses.
Morgan said the new federal law, No Child Left Behind, is the most invasive standards for students in a long time.
"This is unbelievable," she said. "Getting all these standards aligned will take some time."
State officials said school districts do not have to have the state standards in place at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year. Ninth-graders in the 2003-04 school year will be the first group that will be held accountable under the new standards.
Oakey said educators should start the transition phase of implementing the new standards into the curriculum during the upcoming school year.
Pequot Lakes Superintendent Jim Oraskovich said implementing the new standards is just a matter of sitting down with staff and making a few changes.
"They (the new standards) are pretty much the same," he said. "They changed the level of mastery, but the changes in the standards are not drastic."
The Crosby-Ironton School District is in the same boat with the art standards as Little Falls. Christenson said none of the students is required to take art currently. He said a majority of the students are in band or choir so the requirement will not have a big impact on students. He said there are only a few students who do not take any art courses, who now will have to.
Pillager High School Principal Scott Doss said the session was helpful.
"We're on the right track (with the standards)," said Doss. "Our district is in good shape."
Doss said now that the districts are responsible for developing a policy on the standards and testing, he wondered how Pillager would complete this task.
At the high school level, Doss said the graduation credit requirements did not change much. He said Pillager is a half credit off in social studies and will have to make art a requirement instead of an elective.
To learn more about the standards and assessments log onto the state department's Web site at www.education.state.mn.us.
While the regional meeting was being conducted in Brainerd, state education officials in St. Paul announced they will begin to rewrite the social studies and science requirements. The requirements spell out specific facts and concepts children will be expected to know by the end of each grade.
Committees formed to write the social studies and science standards will have a more relaxed schedule. The math and language arts standards were assembled, revised and approved in four months, in part to meet federal deadlines under the No Child Left Behind law.
Applications from parents, teachers, business leaders and others interested in serving on the panels will be accepted through July 3. Committee members will be chosen two weeks later. The Legislature won't weigh in on the recommendations until February at the earliest.
Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke said she will pick panelists who have content knowledge and expertise, demonstrate passion for academic excellence and commit to working throughout the summer and fall.
In social studies, Yecke wants children to be exposed to all types of history at a young age. She said many districts are now using an "expanding horizons" curriculum, where children in early grades learn more about their surroundings than the world at large.
The social studies standards will encompass five major topics: history, geography, citizenship, economics and government.
(This story contains information from The Associated Press.)
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