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Goals for High School Graduation Spelled Out

Education: First statewide standards are proposed in math and English to clarify what students need to succeed.


The first set of high school graduation standards ever proposed in California--designed to clarify what students should know in order to succeed--were unveiled Tuesday by state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz.

The math and English standards, which spell out subject matter and sample problems that high school students ought to master, are still being modified, officials said. The state is still a long way from creating tests that all students would have to pass to graduate.

But even in draft form, the recommendations represent California's first attempt to establish consistent statewide standards that Eastin said would "make sure graduation from high school is not just a cheap reward for showing up."

"In 10 years there will be two kinds of people in California: the well-educated and the hardly employable," Eastin told a meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees at which the report was released. She said the current decentralized system, in which school districts adopt their own standards or none at all, leaves youngsters poorly served.

There is general agreement that California's students would perform better if they had a clearer sense of what skills they needed to pursue a career or to enroll in higher education. The standards unveiled Tuesday seek to give students that sense, setting goals in 12 separate areas.

For math, the standards set general competency requirements in symbols and algebra, functions, measurement and geometry, data analysis, mathematical reasoning and "number sense," meaning calculation and the "ability to estimate." For English, the standards cover reading, writing, grammar, conventions and word usage, speaking and listening, literature and using information.

The standards include sample questions that a high school graduate should be able to answer. For example: "A pyramid is built out of cardboard using four equilateral triangles for the sides and a square for the base. The base is 4 inches on each side. If you want to tape each seam on the pyramid, how much tape will you need?" (For answer, see below).

Eastin acknowledged that many things must happen before the standards--which were compiled by the California Education Round Table--are adopted by the State Board of Education. The Round Table is made up of leaders of the three public college systems, Eastin and representatives of the California Postsecondary Education Commission and the Assn. of Independent California Colleges.

The first step is public input at seven public hearings, including one scheduled for Thursday in Fresno and two others Nov. 20, at the Los Angeles Convention Center and in Ontario.

Then, Eastin said, the Round Table will submit its draft to the newly formed Commission for the Establishment of Academic Content and Performance Standards, which is seeking to create a new assessment system to tell students how they are performing at several grade levels and in several subjects.

The commission--which will consider various sets of standards, including those adopted by other states--is scheduled to issue its report next fall, Eastin said. The chances are good, she predicted, that the proposals released Tuesday could form a backbone for the commission's work.

"The commission is being inundated [with information]. But this report is higher education saying these are our expectations of what kids should know," Eastin said, suggesting that should carry more weight than other studies.

California educators are part of a national movement that is seeking to improve public education by establishing clear and challenging definitions of what students should learn. Nearly every state is developing its own academic standards, despite controversies that have surrounded efforts to set benchmarks at the national level in core disciplines such as history and English.

At present, only 15 states have guidelines that are meaty enough to drive other needed reforms, such as tests that reliably measure whether students are meeting the standards, according to a recent survey by the American Federation of Teachers. The study rated California's efforts at standards-drafting in science and social studies more highly than those in English and math.

Indeed, Eastin said, California high school students today are merely required to complete 24 courses, including two courses of math--and they can fulfill the math requirement however they wish.

"You can take Mickey Mouse math," she said, lamenting that many students don't realize that even blue-collar workers in California today need more preparation than that. "A machinist has to know trigonometry."

Eastin said she plans to sponsor legislation next year to require that high schoolers take algebra and geometry and at least four English courses.

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