School could alter Profile requirements

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 6/28/00.

Last-minute revisions to the Profile of Learning by the Minnesota Legislature has put school districts throughout the state on a short time line if they want to change the requirements for next year.

According to local school administrators, the new law does give school districts more flexibility in implementing the standards, but the goal is still full implementation.

Schools have until August to decide which standards they will require the ninth grade class to complete for graduation. Previously, the state had required 24 standards for graduation. All 24 areas must still be offered, but local school boards and licensed teaching staff now have a say in which should be required for graduation.

The difference is the assessment procedure. A required standard must be assessed and recorded, while one that is offered must merely be included in the school's curriculum. "In practice, we're on the line for implementing all of them," explained Jeff Youngs, a local high school teacher and the vice president of Education Minnesota Paynesville Area (EMPA), the local teacher's union.

To lower the number of required standards for next year, the school board and the licensed staff members will have to agree on the number of required standards and notify the Department of Children, Family, and Learning (CFL) by Aug. 15.

The teacher's vote must be done by site. For the Paynesville schools, a probable division would be to designate the elementary school, the middle school, and the high school as separate sites.

A majority of the licensed staff at each site would have to vote to lower the number of required standards. And the school board would have to approve that number. If the board and the teachers do not agree, all 24 standards would still be required.

Last-minute changes
Legislators have discussed changes to the Profile of Learning for two sessions. Two years ago, the House passed a bill with more severe changes to the Profile, but the House, Senate, and governor couldn't agree on a plan that session.

This year, a plan wasn't agreed upon until the very last day of the session (May 17). "We're really doing a disservice in doing these things at thelast minute and negotiating into the middle of the night," said Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).

Summer is not the ideal time for meeting with the teaching staff to discuss changes to the Profile, said John Janotta, high school principal. "It would have been a lot easier if we would have known about this in April, so we could have worked with the teachers before school was out, " he explained.

He hopes to have the high school staff meet in July and vote for any changes. The vote must be a majority of all licensed teachers, not just the majority at the meeting. So, either a large turnout will be needed or a quorum will need to vote on a consensus plan.

In hopes of reaching a consensus, EMPA is arranging a meeting for the high school teachers prior to the voting meeting, Youngs said.

New requirements
The buzz after the Profile changes was more local control, but the amount of local influence is limited, according to school officials.

Superintendent Howard Caldwell, curriculum coordinator Danith Clausen, Janotta, and Youngs met with CFL representatives on June 9 to learn what the legislative changes would mean in practice. "The changes are not as sweeping as some hoped," surmised Youngs.

"A lot of people were counting on the Legislature to get rid of some of the hoops and hurdles," he added.

Though not all standards will need to be assessed, all still need to be offered in the school's curriculum. Eventually, all will be required for graduation as well.

Requiring no standards for the ninth graders may sound appealing, but it would not help the school progress. "That would just put us further behind," said Youngs, "because we still need to move to full implementation."

Massive requirement reductions would cause administrative problems as well. Students have already scheduled their classes based on the current requirements, and a dramatic change would likely cause a flood of scheduling revisions. Also, Janotta and Clausen felt the reward for students who have completed standards should be kept.

Next fall's sophomore and junior classes will be the first to need the standards for graduation. The school has implemented the standards into the classroom as required. Right now, Clausen said, the standards are in place in the elementary school, middle school, and in the ninth and tenth grades. Next year, the standards in junior-level classes will be put in place.

Clausen is generally pleased with the location of the standards in the curriculum. She feels the standards are becoming more and more embedded in the curriculum. "You can see it," she explained. "Where the standards have been in place longer, I'm not sure that the kids are even aware that what they're doing relates to a standard."

Silver linings
In essence, the legislative changes are geared to make things fairer for students, not to make things easier for schools. Local school districts now have the power to make changes to avoid punishing students when the system is at fault.

For incoming ninth graders, this means the teachers and school board could agree to a reduced number of standards.

For next year's sophomore and junior classes, the school district could use a waiver to hold students harmless. If the school judges that a standard was not sufficiently in place to expect students to complete it, they could waive that standard as a graduation requirement.

Youngs, who feels like the new legislation pays lip service to problems like paper work and grading, said holding the students harmless was one silver lining in the changes. Another was input from teachers, administration, and the school board on the implementation schedule.

"I really, really blame our legislators for this," he said. "(The law change) didn't fix much, and it caused new problems," he added.

The original requirements of the Profile of Learning caused resentment from the top-down mandates of the state. "There are a lot of good things that have come about," said Janotta. "I think the frustration comes from how it was dictated."

In recognizing that implementation of the standards has not been fully or flawlessly accomplished, the state also returned three student-contact days. A couple of years ago, the state required schools to have three extra contact days.

Locally, the school district felt that they couldn't afford to extend teaching contracts by three days, so staff training days were used instead, according to Caldwell. Now the state is allowing schools to use those three days for staff training, as long as it relates to the Profile of Learning.

Clausen said the school is never short on staff training topics, and the three days can easily be used.

She thinks the revisions are a pretty good solution. "It's too bad some of these things weren't done from the beginning," she said. A lot was learned by working and, at times, struggling to implement the Profile over the last few years, she added.

More tinkering
Local legislators expect this won't be the last time that the Profile is revised. Pleased to varying degrees with the alterations, they expect the issue to resurface.

More changes won't be a surprise to Caldwell. "I've been in this business long enough to know that nothing is cast in stone," he said. "The Legislature can change the law whenever they meet."

"It's complicated," said Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel), "and as we learn more as we go we have to keep modifying."

"It's not perfect yet," agreed Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar). "We still have some work to do, but I think it's moving in the right direction."

"There's still a lot more that needs to be done," said Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring).

Fischbach was one of 17 Republicans in the Senate who voted against the Profile changes. She did so because she felt they didn't go far enough. She feels the paper work is overwhelming, and more local control is still needed. "Who knows the kids better than the teachers in school?" she asked.

Rep. Bob Ness (R-Dassel) serves on an education committee in the House. "The bottom line," he said, "is the standards and the assessments have been significantly changed to allow flexibility. The last thing we want is a uniform, state-wide curriculum."

Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) agreed that changes were needed. He didn't want the Profile to be eliminated, so was happy with the compromise. "In the end, as usually happens, we ended up somewhere in the middle," he said.

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