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Paynesville Press - December 3, 2003

Graduation credit requirements increased at Paynesville Area High School

By Michael Jacobson

This year's eighth graders will face increased graduation requirements when they reach Paynesville Area High School. The school board approved raising the graduation requirements by four credits - the equivalent to one full-year class - last week.

Currently, PAHS requires 86 course credits - one per quarter - including 16 in English, 16 in social science, ten in science, eight in math, and six in physical education and health. And the current ninth through 12th graders will graduate needing just that many credits, plus 13 standards which are embedded in required classes.

The school board approved raising the required credits to 90, effective for this year's eighth graders, who will graduate in 2008. The change was made in part to comply with new state requirements, including an extra year of math in high school and a half year in social science.

PAHS has lower course credit requirements than other schools in the area learning center, high school principal John Janotta told the school board. Plus with the state adding requirements, it should help keep elective classes in demand at PAHS, he added.

"In the spirit of raising standards, to meet the demands of the 21st Century, I think we should raise our standards here," said Janotta.

Under the current requirements, if a ninth grader takes six classes, and passes them all, they would only need to take five classes their next three years of high school, noted Janotta. Under the new course requirements, that student would have to take five and a half classes their final three years.

The change was also recommended by the high school teaching staff, said Janotta, which voted 22-3 in favor of the change, with the dissenting voters thinking course requirements should be raised even more.

The raised requirements will not affect most students, who earn more credits than required, said Janotta. Last year, for instance, over 80 percent of the graduating class earned 90 course credits or more. Only six would have needed to take another full-year course, and 13 would have needed to take another semester class to meet the higher requirements.

The school board passed the course requirement with little discussion, except for a few members saying they were comfortable with the change.

The new requirements will be included in the student handbook for next year and will be explained to eighth grade students when they register for their first high school classes in February.

Other graduation changes, required by the state, include taking a year course in geography; taking semester courses in world history and economics; taking another semester of science; and taking at least three years of mathematics.

The geography course will begin when the current eighth graders reach tenth grade. Currently, the district requires two years of American history, taught in ninth and tenth grade, but the American history will be condensed to one year in order to offer a required geography class in tenth grade.

The high school already has an elective class in economics, but this will be required for the eighth graders. The high school also needs to develop a semester (half year) class in world history.

The science requirements pose little problem, since a majority of students already take three years of science in the high school, Janotta said, but the math sequences need to be revamped to include elements of algebra, geometry, and probability and statistics. The sequence for college-bound students - algebra, geometry, and advanced algebra and trigonometry - will not change, but the tech math sequence will need to add elements and to last three years instead of two.

(Whether to give high school course credit for algebra in eighth grade was discussed at length by the board, but no decision was reached. For a brief summation of the discussion, see the Meetings box on page 3.)

The district will need to buy some new textbooks to make these course changes required by the state. Administration told the board that they and staff are working on this problem. One possible solution would be to suspend the district's curriculum purchasing cycle for one year to buy all the new materials needed for the curriculum change.

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