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Paynesville Press - Nov. 5, 2003

New state, federal requirements affect curriculum

By Michael Jacobson

No Child Left Behind New federal requirements - from No Child Left Behind - and new state requirements - to replace the repealed Profiles of Learning - are causing curriculum changes and altering graduation requirements in the Paynesville Area Schools.

With the repeal of the Profiles of Learning last spring by the Minnesota Legislature, the state implemented new standards for language arts and mathematics. The state has proposed new standards for science and social science which should be debated in the Legislature this winter and spring.

School districts had the leeway to develop their own graduation standards for art, health and physical education, vocational and technical education, and world languages.

During a staff development day in October, the high school staff recommended that Paynesville continue to use the 24 standards already embedded in the curriculum. Of these, 13 would be required, most in classes already required for graduation, said high school principal John Janotta.

Students, though, would not be judged separately on the standard and the class. The paperwork is gone. If a student passes the class, he or she accomplishes the required standard.

This recommendation by the teaching staff still needs to be approved by the school board, noted Janotta. It would apply to the current ninth through 12th graders. The current eighth graders will have to comply with the new state standards for graduation.

The high school will need to revamp its curriculum to meet the new graduation requirements. The new state standards require four credits in English for graduation, three credits in math, three credits in science, 3.5 credits in social science, and eight electives, including one in the arts, music, or media arts. PAHS already requires four English credits for graduation, and most college-bound students take three years of math and science, said Janotta. But the high school's current two-year technical math course will have to be expanded to three years to comply.

Right now, PAHS only requires 2.5 science credits, though roughly two-thirds of the students take three full years of science, said Janotta.

In social science, the new graduation requirements will likely cause the most changes. While PAHS currently requires four credits in social science, it requires two years of American History, a semester of government, and another three semesters from five elective choices. For eighth graders, the social science requirements are one year of American History, a year in geography (currently a semester elective), a semester of economics (currently an elective), a semester of government (already required), and a semester in world history (currently not offered at all). That will leave students with only one elective choice, noted Janotta.

No child left behind
One of the requirements of No Child Left Behind is that all students make progress and to achieve 100 percent academic proficiency in ten years, by the 2013-14 school year.

A school's progress is judged by all its composite subgroups: white, black, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, limited English proficiency, special education, and free/reduced price lunch.

To count as a subgroup, a district must have 40 students in a grade for participation (which must be 95 percent) or 20 students for proficiency (which must progess yearly to 100 percent proficiency by 2013-14).

Right now, the Paynesville Area Schools only qualify in two groups: white and free/reduced price lunch. From the testing data, said curriculum coordinator Deb Gillman, there is a big gap in achievement between these two groups, meaning the district needs to address how it can better serve the needs of children in poverty. One problem with this, noted Gillman, is that due to privacy concerns, staff do not always know which students are in this category.

Other requirements - like having 90 percent attendance in the elementary and middle schools or graduating at least 80 percent of high school students - Paynesville already meets and should have no problem continuing to meet.

But something as simple as having 95 percent participation rates on all testing may pose challenges for Paynesville. With grades of 100 students or less, a few absences is all that is needed to be below that 95 percent participation rate.

In a grade with 70 students, only four could miss the test. In the high school, the average daily attendance is just above 94 percent, said Janotta, though the school does get better attendance on test days.

The district will also be putting more emphasis on the make-up dates for testing in the future, added Gillman.

Failure to meet the participation requirements would mean a failure to make adequate yearly progress as defined in No Child Left Behind. That's why school officials are going to emphasize having students available for testing dates even more in the years to come.

Actually, Paynesville met the standards of making adequate yearly progress based on its 2002-03 test results, with the elementary being a three-star school in the state's new five-star rating, Gillman told the teachers in October. But, based on the 2001-02 results, Paynesville was not making adequate yearly progress, due to its elementary math scores.

The district needs to comply with both the federal and state requirements or it faces losing federal and state funds for education, Gillman said. Plus, it's the law, which the school district needs to obey.

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