On Feb. 11, the Minnesota House voted 92-35 to drastically alter the current requirements. The House bill renames it Rigorous Academic Standards and reduces the requirements to six core subject areas. Also, the bill allows for more local control in meeting the remaining requirements.
"This week the House of Representatives passed legislation that revamps the Profile of Learning and empowers teachers with the tools and freedom they need to see their students succeed," said Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring) in a statement after the House vote. "Under the new legislationÉstate mandates will be lifted and local schools and their teachers will regain control of their classrooms."
Stang was an author of the bill and voted for it, along with Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar).
The companion bill in the Senate is still in the Children, Families, and Learning Committee. Both the Senate and the governor's office have said that they would prefer less severe modifications to Profiles of Learning, but nothing is settled.
"It's up for grabs," said superintendent Howard Caldwell. If the Senate passes a bill that differs from the House bill, the differences may need to be ironed out in a conference committee. "It's hard to say what's going to happen then," said Caldwell.
In the first of a series of articles, we will look at the present requirements of the law and give an example of a Profile of Learning being taught.
It's the law
"Right now it's the law, so we are obligated to do it," explained Danith Clausen, the school district's curriculum coordinator.
Profile of Learning is part of the Minnesota's Graduation Standards. According to the Department of Children, Families, and Learning (CFL), those standards have two components, Basic Standards and High Standards. The Basic Standards are the skills testing in math, reading, and writing. Math and reading tests are first given to all eighth graders. Those who do not pass retake them each year until they do. The writing test is first given to tenth graders.
The High Standards, called Profile of Learning, are intended to challenge all students. "Students are required to achieve at higher content levels than before, and to demonstrate that they can apply what they have learned," said a Department of CFL handout.
These standards were phased in differently. The current 11th graders are the first class that will need to pass the basic standards testing to graduate. The current ninth graders are the first class that will need to complete the Profile of Learning to graduate, in addition to passing the standard tests.
The Profiles are grouped into ten learning areas: Read, Listen, View; Write and Speak; Arts and Literature; Mathematical Applications; Inquiry; Scientific Applications; Peoples and Cultures; Decision Making; Resource Management; and World Languages. Each of these learning areas contains a number of standards, which are expectations of what the students will learn.
Under current law, to graduate a student must complete 24 standards. Nine are required: Literature and Arts Creation and Performance; Literature and Arts Analysis and Interpretation; Shape, Space, and Measurement; Themes in U.S. History; U.S. Citizenship; Diverse Perspectives; Individual and Community Health; Physical Education and Fitness; and Economic Systems.
Twelve more standards must be chosen from certain categories. For instance, students must choose either a standard on academic writing or another on technical writing.
Three additional standards can then be chosen as electives, making a total of 24 needed for graduation. The state lists a possible 48 standards. "We're not obligated to give (the students) all the choices," said Clausen, "but we certainly want to give them as many as possible."
In addition to the high school standards, prepatory standards exist for the kindergarten through the eighth grade. For kindergarten through third grade, called primary level, there are 11 required standards. In grades four and five, called intermediate level, there are 15 requirements. And in grades six through eight, called middle level, there are 27 requirements.
In all these levels, the world languages learning area is optional. It is strongly recommended, but not currently required.
Not all the standards were required to be in place this year, but Paynesville, like most other school districts, opted to voluntarily put them in place in exchange for extra state revenue.
Embedding standards in the present curriculum
The standards are meant to be embedded in the curriculum.
First, each standard had to be placed within a department that taught the needed skills. Then, with Clausen's help, the teachers of each department had to review their curriculum and match the requirements of the standard with the grade level where it should be taught.
The intent is for students hardly to notice a difference between regular lessons and standards. "(A package) should be so much a part of the class that the student wouldn't even know," said Clausen.
One major difference is in the assessment. Pencil and paper tests are discouraged, and teachers are encouraged to have students demonstrate their knowledge of a subject through other means, like interviews, presentations, and reports. "You're looking for the best way a student can show you what they know," explained Clausen. "That's what's behind all of this."
The individual standards each come with a state package that gives an example of activities that will cover the skills required by the standard as well as assessment options.
Teachers who do not like the state package can opt to create their own that meets the standards. Our school district has joined with Rocori, Eden Valley-Watkins, Kimball, and Melrose to form a package review committee. A group of 20 teachers, with aid from the curriculum directors, checks proposals against the tasks the package requires. Committee-approved packages may be used to complete a standard.
A major difference between these prepatory standards and the high standards is that the high standards used in high school are required for graduation and are therefore scored and will be placed on transcipts.
The standards use a different scoring system to the standard A-B-C-D-F. Instead, they will use 4-3-2-1. Four represents outstanding work that exceeds the standard. Three represents good work that meets or exceeds the standard. Two represents work that approaches but does not meet the standard. One represents work well below the standard.
Any score satisfies completion of the standard for graduation purposes. Clausen said students who lack skills are not penalized. "As long as you attempt, you're fine," she said.
However, a no score can be given for incomplete work, and that does not complete a standard.
Christine Jax, commissioner of education, has proposed a moratorium on scoring. She said at a public forum in February that she opposes recording scores on transcripts at present and would like a delay at least until the standards are retooled.
Part of the confusion in scoring comes from the standards being embedded in the curriculum of each class. The standard might be just a part of an entire class, based on a certain unit or chapter. So it is possible to do well in the standard but poorly in the overall class. Say scoring a four on the standard, but only receiving a C as a class grade. Or vice versa, a student may do well in the class and receive a B but not try at the standard and get only a one.
Example of a standard
In her fifth grade mathematics class, Barb Werlinger has been preparing her students for their Chance and Data Handling standard all year.
Earlier in the year they spent a week learning how to calculate the mean, mode, median, and range for a set of data. Three or four times she has done demonstrations on how to graph data. For some of these examples, they collected traffic data by watching the school halls or the streets outside the school.
Three weeks ago, they completed the actual package. Their goal was to learn how to collect data, to interpret it, and to explain it to others. The topic of their study should have had some interest to ten-year-olds: the average number of chips in three brands of chocolate chip cookies.
First, they had to collect the data, which meant separating the chips from the cookie and counting the number of chips. Each student crushed and counted two cookies. Then, to get a larger sample size, they had to share their data with the rest of the class and collect data from all their classmates.
Armed with the class data, they could each calculate the mean, mode, median, and range, and then represent the data in a graph. To interpret their data, they had to write a paragraph to their families recommending a certain brand, using their statistical data as evidence.
For Werlinger, the standard tests real understanding of the concepts. "Okay, show me if you know it or not," she said.
The letter tests not only if they can produce the right calculations, but whether they grasp the underlying importance of the concepts. "To me this is real world understanding," she explained.
She uses a state package and said it fit beautifully into her class. She did reorder her curriculum a little because some of the chance and data topics were at the end of her text book.
Next week we'll see that not all the Profile of Learning meet with similar success when we look at some of the pros and cons of using them in the classroom.
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