Original URL:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/0210highschooldiplomas10.html
High school diploma no longer is key to success
Associated Press
Feb. 10, 2004 12:01 AM
Ben Feller

Panel asks renewed push in reading, writing

WASHINGTON - Once considered a springboard to success, the high school diploma now has little meaning in determining whether students are ready for college or work, a coalition of education groups contends.

Only comprehensive change, including more rigorous English and math requirements for all students, would restore the significance of a high school graduation, according to a nearly two-year review by the American Diploma Project.

The organization is an alliance of three groups whose leaders include top education officials in the administrations of former presidents Clinton and Reagan. Its report is based on comments from more than 300 educators and employers and an analysis of employment trends.

Project leaders, anticipating resistance to a stinging call for action, say they hope to spur gradual change among states. Lack of change, they say, will keep huge numbers of students heading for remedial college work or jobs for which they're unprepared.

"We haven't believed that the purpose of high school was to ensure every kid who graduated was ready to do college-level work. That is the big sea change that we're signaling here," said Michael Cohen, the former Clinton adviser and current president of Achieve, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping states raise academic standards.

"Whether, as a parent, you think your kid is going to college or the workplace, those kids face the same rigorous demands, and they need to leave with the same core set of skills," he said.

That means all students should learn geometry, data analysis, statistics and advanced algebra, the report says. They also should show strong written and oral skills, plus analytic and reasoning ability typically linked with honors courses, it says.

No state requires the standards called for in the report, its authors say.

Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, called the proposal an extreme position.

"We're going to require in 2006 that students pass the high school AIMS test to graduate, but it doesn't go to that extreme," Horne said.

To pass the high school Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, students need to understand first year geometry and first year algebra.

"They (the American Diploma Project) are calling for the analytical and reasoning abilities found in advanced placement courses that are designed for a minority of students," Horne said. "The high school diploma should be available to all students who complete the work required."

"I'm struggling for something in between, a golden mean," Horne said. "This is an extreme position, the other extreme is parents who think passing courses is sufficient without passing a reasonable test."

The report offers a series of skill expectations, or bench marks, as a means for school leaders to review the content of their schools' courses- not just in high school but also in the grades that precede it, so students are on pace for the last years before graduation.

David Bloome, past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, said the report is not "smacking of reality."

Leaders targeted only English and math because they are the basic subjects that give students access to everything else and because they are the easiest to take on first, said project director Sheila Byrd. They are also at the heart of the new federal law that's pressuring schools to raise achievement.

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