School board backs graduation policy

January 19, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg School Board was divided this week on a policy to raise graduation requirements, particularly on the addition of a fourth math credit beginning with the class of 2010, but administrators say it is aimed at both improving test scores and students' odds of success in college and their careers.

The board on Wednesday voted 5-4 to approve the graduation policy on first reading, a preliminary step to final approval. It also unanimously approved a school improvement plan for Chambersburg Area Senior High School required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Christine Henn, the high school's associate principal for curriculum and instruction, said Thursday the graduation requirements and the improvement plan are rooted in Project 720, a state high school reform plan.

"The four math credits for the graduation requirement comes from the school improvement plan and ... is strongly recommended in Project 720," Henn said.


A challenging curriculum in English, math, social studies and science is one strategy Project 720 schools have to adopt, according to a program summary.

"The schools making the gains on the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) test are requiring four math credits," Henn said. Juniors will take the test in March, she said.

More important than test scores, she said, is that the more math and higher levels of math students take translates to higher performance in college and employment.

"We're not writing a school improvement plan as a Band-Aid or to teach to a test," Henn said.

Henn said the high school has been on the state's watch list since 2004. Faust Junior High School had been, too, but since has hit the benchmarks for average yearly progress to be taken off the list, she said.

"We took our cue from Faust, setting up a mentoring group" of teachers in the building, Henn said. There also are alternate testing and other measures aimed at identifying where students need help to improve their PSSA scores, she said.

The subpar test performance of two subgroups - students with individual education plans and socioeconomically disadvantaged students - resulted in the school being placed on the watch list, she said.

Eric Michael, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, told the board Wednesday that the Waynesboro and Greencastle-Antrim school districts have adopted a four math credit policy.

"If we truly want to be a world-class district, we have to raise expectations," Michael said.

"Do we have a feel for how many children aren't going to be successful?" board member Lori Leedy asked.

Michael said 30 percent or more of current high school students might not meet the higher graduation requirements, which would begin implementation with the class of 2008. To graduate, members of that class would have to score proficient or advanced in the PSSA for math and reading.

"I'm concerned it's going to backfire and we're going to end up with more students dropping out," board member David Sciamanna said.

Districts that have adopted similar requirements have seen students take their work more seriously, Michael said. The district also is putting in place remedial programs and retesting to help students meet the requirements, he said.

How they voted

The Chambersburg School Board on Wednesday voted 5-4 to give preliminary approval to new graduation requirements that would be phased in over three years beginning with the class of 2008.

For: School Board President Thomas Orndorf and board members Stanley Helman, Norman Blowers, David Sciamanna and William Tolleson.

Against: Board Vice President Renee Sharpe and board members Joel Happel, Fred Rice and Lori Leedy.

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