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Board examines tougher diploma requirements.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

The Oregon high school diploma is on the brink of dramatic change, and this year's incoming freshmen will be the first to feel it.

Under a bill passed by the 2005 state Legislature, the class of 2010 - whose members begin ninth grade two weeks from now - will have to take a third year of math and a fourth year of English, raising the required credit tally for a diploma from 22 to 24.

But other changes are looming - including yet more stringent graduation requirements and the likely demise of the controversial certificates of initial and advanced mastery, known as the CIM and the CAM.

It's all on the State Board of Education's plate at a three-day retreat, beginning today, that's expected to draw as many as 150 teachers, school administrators, parents, higher-education officials, legislators, students and national experts.

"The board has collected a lot of feedback" through an online survey and other means, said Salam Noor, the assistant superintendent for public instruction. "But this is really the board's first opportunity to hear from all these different stakeholders at the same time."

The move to overhaul Oregon's graduation requirements has been gathering steam over the past couple of years, aligned with a nationwide push to reduce dropout rates and better prepare high school graduates for college and an increasingly competitive global workplace.

Noor said Oregon's current requirements hold up well compared with other states, but that the board agrees that something more is necessary for the 21st century.

"The purpose is to make the diploma meaningful, rigorous and relevant, and make it connect with postsecondary education," Noor said. "The hope is that by December they will have a decision of what really will be required to have students earn a diploma."

Among the challenges of the proposed reforms, he said, are the increased costs they would impose on an already strained education system, as well as the need for more and better qualified teachers, particularly in science and math.

Elements under discussion include:

Requiring three instead of two credits of science, with at least two credits coming from a laboratory science class.

Establishing Algebra I as the minimum level of math for which high school math credits may be earned.

Setting proficiency levels in core areas as well as career-related learning standards, which would be a departure from the current emphasis on credit for classroom time.

Requiring students to demonstrate a set of "essential skills," which could include writing, analytical thinking, problem solving, financial literacy and scientific method.

Creating multiple assessments and pathways for measuring student success.

Requiring individualized education plans.

Requiring one or more foreign language credits.

Ensuring that all students have access to a national college entrance exam.

Raising the minimum grade point average require- ment.

Requiring a senior project that shows that students can apply their knowledge.

Noor said the board has been tepid on the prospect of an "exit exam" seniors would need to pass to graduate, even though many other states have gone that route.

Meanwhile, high schools across Oregon are weighing how much they should continue emphasizing the CIM and the CAM, whose days are clearly numbered. In a speech to the Portland City Club last December, Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo said it was time to close the book on the CIM and CAM, which were trumpeted as the cornerstone of an education reform package passed by the 1991 Legislature.

To earn a CIM, students must pass 10th-grade state tests in reading, math and science, and successfully complete a set of classroom assignments that serve as a sort of portfolio and are scored according to specific state guidelines. CIMs aren't required to graduate.

In 2005, just 37 percent of graduates left high school with a CIM, and Castillo and many others have noted that the certificates are poorly understood and underappreciated by students, parents, colleges and the business community.

Ed Dennis, Castillo's chief of staff, said some observers misconstrued Castillo's comments and believed that she advocated backing away from high standards. Quite the contrary, he said. "To put it very simply, we were applying (a high standard) to that voluntary certificate that didn't mean that much to kids and parents, and now we're going to take it and apply it to the diplomas, which people understand pretty well."

The CAM, meanwhile, demonstrates proficiency in one of six broad career areas. Schools are not required to offer CAMs, although several local schools have fully incorporated them.

One of those is Willamette High School, which has also long embraced the CIM. It's one of the few schools that holds a separate awards ceremony to honor students who attain one.

Principal Jim Jamieson said he doesn't believe the CIM and CAM should be abandoned, and will continue emphasizing them so long as they remain a part of state law. Indeed, it would take legislative action to do away with them.

He believes they are a meaningful assessment and a motivator for some students, and faults policy makers, as well as education officials and the business community, for never "giving value" to the certificates.

"There's been a lot of talk, but not a lot of walk," he said.

INSIDE Survey: School officials support requiring students to demonstrate mastery of essential skills / D4
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Title Annotation:Schools; The overhaul of Oregon's graduation requirements may doom CIM and CAM
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 23, 2006
Words:880
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