High School Reform
The Commissioner of Education recently withdrew his proposal for high school reform. The proposal had many implications for RHAM High School. Perhaps the best way to begin is to briefly discuss recent attempts at high school reform within the State. Discussion of high school reform can be traced to 2000, when the State Department of Education prepared a report to re-conceptualize high school evaluation. The re-conceptualizing of high schools was to ensure a more challenging, engaging, and supportive experience for all students. The Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) is a test designed to measure skills in mathematics, science, ability to read and write across various content areas, thus providing for interdisciplinary instruction. The test has caused the modification of curriculum and instructional practices (teaching). Along with the State of Connecticut, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) issued a new set of Standards for Accreditation at about the same time. Seven standards include: Mission of the School; Expectations for Student Learning; Curriculum; Instruction; and Assessment of Student Learning. In 2001 the General Assembly enacted legislation requiring school districts to "specify the skills necessary for graduation" for all high school graduating classes beginning in 2006. At RHAM High School, reforms resulted in a requirement that all students score proficient on the CAPT in order to graduate. Students not achieving this goal must submit a portfolio to show they have mastered the skills measured by CAPT. A report issued during 2001 suggested additional reforms. A major concern was that once college admission materials were submitted, a significant portion of the senior year was wasted because students chose courses that were not challenging or relevant to their particular career choice. The National Commission on the Senior Year suggested that the senior year of high school be reshaped so that schools could provide learning opportunities of all kinds. The high school reform plan was organized around the "Concepts of Engagement, 21st Century Learning and Rigor". This framework for high school redesign was designated as a priority in the 2006 Five Year Comprehensive Plan of the Department of Education. In 2008, the notion of high school reform was expanded to include middle schools as an important part of secondary school reform. The proposal advanced by the Commissioner of Education considered grade six to be a part of the middle school. With this definition of a secondary school in mind, there are program and curricula elements that become important elements of secondary school reform: student success plans beginning in grade 6; early warning and student support systems beginning in grade 6; creation of grade 6-8 language arts curricula linked to the high school grade 9 and 10 curricula; a science curricula in grades 6-8 that emphasizes scientific inquiry and experimentation; and creation of common professional development modules for teachers from grade 6-10. In addition to the plan proposed by the Commissioner, the number of credits required for graduation would increase from 24 to 25. Course requirements would be as follows: math 4 credits, science 3 credits, English 4 credits, social studies 2.5 credits, fine arts 1credit, humanities elective 1 credit, health and physical education 1.5 credits, career and life skills 3.5 credits, open electives 3.5 credits, and a capstone project 1 credit. Each school district will be required to develop final examinations in Algebra I, Geometry, English 10, Biology, and US History. The final exam will count a minimum of 20 percent of the final grade for the course and require a passing score of 70 or higher. CAPT testing requirements will continue and results will be used to satisfy the requirements of No Child Left Behind. For students having academic difficulty, the Commissioner's proposal provides options for struggling students. In a subsequent column, I will continue to discuss the forces that will shape high school reform despite the action of the Commissioner of Education to postpone his reform schedule due to current fiscal conditions.