Graduation requirement draws debate in Chambersburg

December 12, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In the 2005-06 school year, 62.6 percent of Chambersburg Area Senior High School juniors scored proficient or advanced in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, test for reading and 43.6 percent in math, percentages that will have to increase dramatically if they want to get a diploma.

The district's Curriculum and Policy Committee Monday reviewed proposed new standards for graduation that will require all high school students to score proficient or advanced to graduate beginning with the class of 2008. The goal is not unrealistic and probably will not seriously increase the drop-out rate, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Eric Michael said.

That has not happened in other districts with the requirement, in part, because students take the tests more seriously, he said.

"Before the policy went into effect, there was no accountability" on the part of students, Michael said after the meeting. "We need to build a culture where anything a student does counts."


The district has been preparing for the 2008 graduation requirement for two years by putting in place remedial reading and math courses to help students who scored poorly in the tests, he said.

Those class of 2008 juniors who perform basic or below basic in math or reading will be able to retest in the fall of their senior year. Those who still fall short will have the opportunity to prove their proficiency in an alternative assessment given by the district, according to the policy.

Beginning with the class of 2009, those not meeting the standards will be required to take and pass proficiency courses in math, reading or both during the second semester of their senior year, the draft policy states.

That proposed policy raised some concerns among parents and students.

Ninth Grade Class Treasurer Kacy Straub said her classmates were polled in their home rooms and "a vast majority of students don't want PSSAs used as a graduation requirement."

There are students with good grades who do not necessarily perform well on standardized tests, Straub said.

A proposal to add a fourth math credit for high school graduation beginning in 2010 concerned Ninth Grade Class President Andy Dessel. He said students who take algebra in eighth grade would not get credit toward high school graduation.

School board member Renee Sharpe agreed those students should get credit toward graduation and have some flexibility to take other courses of interest if they have met the math requirement.

However, administrators were adamant that four years of high school math is needed.

"The more math you know, the more successful you are in post-secondary education," said Thomas Knepper, the district's math supervisor. "We're getting beat up by other countries because our students are not prepared for that."

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