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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho middle schoolers may lose easy pass

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer

Students won’t be able to skate through middle school if a proposed school reform initiative is approved by the Idaho Board of Education.

A subcommittee of the board is introducing recommendations this week that would require students to earn a “C” average in core classes in middle school before moving on to high school. Middle school students would also be required to take higher level math classes.

The Postsecondary Readiness Subcommittee is also proposing tougher high school graduation requirements, including an additional year of science and two more years of math. The proposal will be introduced at the Board of Education’s meeting Thursday at North Idaho College.

“The plan we’re recommending introduces more rigor into the curriculum and that rigor is good for students at all levels,” said board member Sue Thilo, chairwoman of the subcommittee.

Last week, Idaho’s school superintendents were presented with the subcommittee’s proposal. Already, school officials are expressing concern about the impact the added requirements could have on students who struggle the most.

At a school board meeting on Monday, Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said the proposal sounded good in concept, but he was concerned that “it will be a hardship on some kids.”

Keane and school board members said they had questions about the cost to Idaho school districts.

“Where is the money going to come from?” board chairwoman Donagene Turnbow asked. “Did the state think about that?”

Thilo said the recommendations could require additional funding. She said there are high school reform grants available which could alleviate the pressure on the state, district and taxpayers to fund the changes.

State board spokeswoman Luci Willits said public hearings will be scheduled if the board supports the proposed changes. After the public has a chance to testify and submit written comments, Willits said, the proposal would return to the board for a second reading and then go to the Legislature for approval.

Thilo said the state has one of the country’s higher graduation rates, with about 77 percent of students completing high school. But Idaho ranks near the bottom nationwide for college graduates.

“We need to do a better job of giving students the preparation to continue their education and succeed once they’re there,” she said.

With only four semesters of math required for graduation, Thilo noted that students can be done with math by the end of their sophomore year. During the next two years of high school, Thilo said, the students can forget the skills they learned and require remediation as college students.

In addition to two added years of math requirements, the proposal would increase the number of science credits required from 4 to 6. Students would also be required to take a college entrance exam by the end of their junior year whether or not they plan to go to college, and complete a senior project including an oral presentation and written report.

Willits said the state currently has no requirements for middle school students in regards to attendance or grades. She said test scores are high at the elementary level, but drop in the middle school years.

“Our students are bright,” Willits said. “We know they can complete the work, but we’re not requiring them to do that in order to advance to the next level.”

Coeur d’Alene Superintendent Harry Amend said Monday that he’s worried about the impact increased graduation requirements could have on the dropout rate and he has questions about the proposed changes at the middle school level.

Amend said he’s seen firsthand the struggles of middle school students, who are undergoing a tremendous amount of change in their lives, physically and emotionally. Students that age often struggle with motivation and focus, he said.

Amend said he doesn’t support holding back middle school students who don’t make the grade and hasn’t seen any research to support retaining middle school students.

“Every year, I would receive kids into my classroom that had struggled in middle school who did wonderfully in high school,” the former teacher said. “I also got kids who did wonderfully in middle school and struggled in high school because of some adjustment changes.”

The subcommittee is also recommending that students, with the help of their parents, complete a “Postsecondary Readiness Plan” by the end of sixth grade. The plan would look ahead at a student’s high school and post-high school plans.

Students would be required to take four years of courses in high school that would tie in to their future plans.

Currently, students must develop a four-year plan for high school by the end of their eighth-grade year.

Thilo said the plan is a way for students to look further ahead and start thinking earlier about what they need to accomplish to meet their goals.

“The intent is for that plan to be reviewed on an annual basis and be revised along the way,” she said. “It’s a dynamic plan, but the intent is to plan.”