School Officials Consider Proposed Graduation Requirements

Dorothy Rowley | 1/30/2013, 1:16 p.m.

A proposal to increase the number of credits from 24 to 26 - including the expansion of requirements for the fine arts and physical education curriculums - for students attending District public high schools in order to graduate, is up for approval.

However, the plan which was presented in December by the D.C. State Board of Education, requires public input, and probably will not get the nod until later this year. D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has voiced her disapproval regarding additional credits.

"Most specifically, we object to the increase of overall credit requirements and the addition of a senior thesis," Henderson said.

She added that several "comprehensive" revisions should be made to the proposal.

The chancellor listed among them elimination of the antiquated Carnegie Unit that was used initially in 1906 by colleges to gauge student eligibility; clarity in language aligned with requirements for the Algebra I course; and the reduction in the Social Studies course work from 2.0 to 1.0 credits.

Henderson, 43, further noted that clarifications are warranted in the areas of World History and Foreign Language requirements. Her comments were made amid reports that indicate less than two-thirds of high school students in the District graduate on time.

D.C. State Board of Education President Laura Slover said in testimony last fall before the board that a long-standing mandate which has yet to be acknowledged, states that District high school students should complete a community-based thesis project in order to graduate.

The board adopted the thesis idea years ago as a requirement for students entering high school during the 2007-08 school term. But because the thesis never received full approval, students were put at risk of learning to late that they might not meet graduation requirements.

"This is not a new idea: The board adopted it years ago as a requirement for students beginning with the Class of 2011,"Slover said. "But the requirement [has either been] ignored or overlooked."

Nathan Saunders, Washington Teachers' Union president, said his organization isn't opposed to the board's recommendations.

"It's clear that students need as many arts and P.E. electives as possible," said Saunders, 48. "But in testimony he offered on Jan. 23 to the board, Saunders said that before any action is taken to increase graduation requirements, there must be a strategic plan to counteract any harm the changes might cause students.

"The first foreseeable harm may come in the form of lower graduation rates," Saunders said. "According to U.S. Department of Education school statistics for the 2010-2011 school year, the District of Columbia Schools has a graduation rate of 59 percent, placing it next to last place in the country. Our students will need additional academic and [other supports] in order to meet increased graduation standards."

Saunders said a plan must also be developed that ensures students with disabilities can graduate with all the special education supports they are entitled to.

"This means that D.C. Public Schools must fully comply with the requirements of student Individualized Education Plans," said Saunders . . . "and that they should not be forced to endure a general education classroom with 20 or more other students."

Ward 7 School Board representative Dorothy Douglas, 64, concurred, but also expressed concern over the additional credits involving the fine arts and physical education curriculums.

"I know it's going to be somewhat complicated [for the board] to attach two more credits," said Douglas. "But [in the long run] although it will make the school day longer, it's about making sure students are prepared for the job force or college."