Northwest NEWS

October 1, 2001

School

Northshore previews new graduation requirements

by Deborah Stone
   New graduation requirements for Northshore students were presented to the community at a gathering last week held at the district's headquarters.
   Gail Robbins, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for Northshore, gave what she called "a preview of coming attractions" to a standing-room only crowd of parents of children currently in the sixth through eighth grades. She provided the history of the adoption of these changes, explained the need driving them and then outlined the requirements one by one.
   Robbins explained that the reasons for such change stemmed from state education reform mandates (House Bill 1209) created to improve student achievement. In essence the Bill states, "...Student achievement must be improved to keep pace with societal changes, changes in the workplace, and an increasingly competitive international economy."
   A 38-person committee of parents, students, community participants, school board members and district and higher education representatives worked together over a course of several years to define Northshore's requirements and align them with state mandates.
   Students currently in the seventh grade or younger will be the first expected to meet these new requirements, however some students presently in the eighth grade will take part in several pilot projects regarding these requirements (their graduation status will not be impacted by participation in these pilots).
   The new graduation requirements reflect a shift from a time-based and credit-based system to a standards and performance-based system.
   In order to graduate from high school, Northshore students will be required to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, both in and out of the classroom, through the completion of the following: ninth and twelfth grade culminating projects; applied learning or internship work in a real world setting; performance-based credits that meet district standards of competency; a Certificate of Mastery (COM) achieved by meeting the standards assessed on the tenth grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL); and an academic and career plan outlining academic coursework and experiences students will pursue through high school and for one year beyond graduation.
   As for the number of credits required for graduation, there is not a significant difference between the old and new systems. Under the old system, the total number of credits required was 21.42 and under the new system, this total rises to just 22.44 credits. This reflects one additional credit in English and one additional credit in math or science.
   Applied learning hours are not new for many students, as they been in existence at various schools for several years. A few schools already have culminating projects in existence, but under the new requirements, all junior highs and high schools will make them mandatory for ninth and twelfth graders. These projects provide opportunities for students to use what they have learned to show their understanding of academics through a creative means.
   The WASL currently assesses students in reading, writing, math and listening, but beginning in 2003-2004, it will also include science and eventually social studies, fine arts, and health and fitness.
   Another new component, the academic and career plan, is being instituted to help students see the connection between education, careers and the future. The district has developed various career pathways and students are asked to select a pathway according to their interests, activities, academics and education goals. They maintain their own career portfolios, which evolve and become increasingly more focused as the students make their way through high school.
   Students who require assistance in meeting these requirements will obviously need support systems. A summer academy, extended learning programs and the utilization of mentors are just a few of the options under consideration.
   Robbins was quick to mention that the district still has much work ahead of it to clarify many issues regarding these requirements, as there are many unanswered questions.
   She said, "For the next two years we will continue to work on putting all the pieces together so that we can eventually get everyone on line. There will be a development team of seventeen educators with representation from each of the junior and senior highs in the district that will meet to look closely at the components of these requirements and iron out the specifics. They will report to a community advisory team composed of parents, teachers, community members and possibly even students who will provide input and give suggestions."
   The focus, according to Robbins, will be on what should be in these requirements, as opposed to how they will be implemented. Individual schools and teachers will be able to use their own style and creativity in implementation methods. "Communication is the key to making all of this work," explains Robbins. "We want to keep the community continuously informed and allow for opportunities to give input." The district has its own Web site (www.nsd.org) and within that, there is a special section detailing the graduation requirements. Updates will be made to this site as they become available. There's also an e-mail site (GradRequirements@nsd.org) for the public to use to make comments, ask questions, make suggestions, etc. "It's important for everyone to know that these changes are not being made hastily," comments Robbins. "Many people have been involved in this project over a number of years. The emphasis of these requirements is on consistency and quality, rather than new and different. Meeting them will ensure that our students are prepared and confident to meet the future."