Friday, June 25, 2004

School credit load increased

Students currently need
only 22 credit hours to
graduate from high school

KEALAKEKUA, Hawaii >> This fall's seventh-graders had better get ready.

By the time they're high school freshmen in the 2006-07 school year, graduation will require two additional credits, under a plan approved by the state Board of Education yesterday.

The move would make the state's credit requirements among the toughest in the country, with students needing 24 credits for a diploma, up from 22. The new requirements for foreign language, career/technical education or fine arts (including music) are intended to help students develop expertise in areas that will help them after graduation.

Though all board members voted in favor of the requirements, Karen Knudsen said she did so with reservations.

The public asked the board not to cut some subjects, but there was little input about increasing graduation requirements, Knudsen said.

"This looks great on paper," Knudsen said, but "I have concerns."

The board has not adequately determined the costs, Knudsen said.

"When we increased the credits for middle school, that had all kinds of implications we didn't anticipate," she noted.

But board member Denise Matsumoto said the public asked why it was necessary to keep graduation requirements at 22 credits, implying more credits would be acceptable.

Many high school seniors now take only four periods of class a day, instead of the normal six, because that will get them to 22 credits, schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said. By adding two credits, the schools are saying students will attend for a full six periods a day, she said.

Only seven states require 24 credits for graduation, with most requiring 19 to 22, according to a 2002 survey by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The plan to boost the number of credits came in response to an outcry over an earlier proposal by the Graduation Requirements Task Force, which had recommended trimming physical education and social studies requirements to make time for other courses.

The task force wanted to mandate two years of either foreign language, fine arts or career and technical education -- subjects now optional.

Instead of replacing courses, the state Department of Education recommended -- and a board committee agreed in April -- to simply add those two new credits to the existing diploma requirements. If approved, the plan would take effect in the 2006-07 school year, for students graduating in 2010.

Because schools traditionally offer six courses or credits a year, the new plan would mean students would have to pass all 24. As it is now, students have two credits of wiggle room.


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