Freshmen who enter Santa Ana high schools next year will have to take three years of laboratory science and 3 1/2 years of social science instead of the current two years each if they want to graduate in 2005.
The class of 2006 will have do that and more: three years of math instead of two, taking algebra and geometry, two years of the same foreign language and a yearlong sequence of arts classes, choosing among dance, drama, music or visual arts, according to changes adopted by the district last week.
This year's freshmen at Brea Olinda already are following similar requirements: a yearlong sequence of arts classes. And a new geography requirement incorporates writing skills--students in the class are required to write a report in partnership with the school's English department.
School districts all over the state have been beefing up their graduation requirements--mainly in math and science--to align their curriculum with state standards and prepare students for a new high school exit exam, which will be administered to students graduating in 2004. But some districts--such as Santa Ana, Laguna Beach and Brea Olinda--have taken it one step farther and enhanced their arts and social studies requirements as well.
"I think it shows how progressive we are as a district," said Santa Ana school board member Audrey Yamagata-Noji. "It's our push to raise the standards for our students. We're doing what people think we should be doing: expecting more from our students."
Saddleback Valley Unified School District also requires a third year of science. But the district is taking steps to get students excited about science as well as making it easier for them to meet the more stringent requirements. One district school, Trabuco Hills High, offers students a chance to work in a technology exploration lab with robotics and weather-forecasting equipment, or learn about the geology and wildlife of Trabuco Canyon, or teach basic science to elementary school students to fulfill the third year of science.
In the Capistrano Unified School District, students starting high school next year will have to take computer science, health and geography classes in ninth grade. Board members might consider several more changes that closely mirror Santa Ana's, with the addition of a change to its 12th-grade English curriculum. The district has assembled a committee to consider the matter and make a proposal to the school board in the spring.
"This is a long journey that began in 1997--that's when we dropped some requirements and added others and made things more flexible for students interested in participating in our technical preparatory academies," said Patrick Levens, Capistrano Unified's executive director of secondary education. "We wanted to move forward with some of the other things this year, but personnel changes slowed things down. But we've picked up the momentum again."
In Laguna Beach, students who started ninth grade this year will have to take an additional year of science--up from two years to three. And, instead of choosing between a semester of arts or a foreign language, students are required to take a year of each.
"I think what happens when kids begin high school, they start thinking about focusing their education on what they're going to study in college, and sometimes kids get so focused they don't take advantage of other opportunities to expand their knowledge," said Steven Rabago, a Laguna Beach Unified School District board member. "Also, with the arts, we wanted the students to have an opportunity to express themselves in a variety of different ways--whether it's in a play or music or another form of expression. Although kids are very verbal, when it comes to organizational presentation, it's a much different environment."