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Local educators like Oregon's diploma standards

Some Southern Oregon educators are happy with the state's decision to provide an array of choices for showing that students have met new high school diploma standards effective in 2012.

A state education board vote April 18 to allow high schools to use the 10th-grade state assessment to demonstrate math, reading and writing skills garnered headlines because it suggested that graduation would hinge on passing the test.

But under the board's plan, students also can earn a diploma by achieving a to-be-determined score on an ACT, PSAT, SAT or other approved standardized test or by work samples, said officials with the Oregon Department of Education.

"The intent is to have an exit exam but to provide various pathways for students to show proficiency for graduation," Salam Noor, ODE assistant superintendent, said at an education summit Thursday in Ashland.

"What we know from research is that students learn in all types of modalities," said Michelle Zundel, Ashland schools education director. "To have a system that requires a single exam for graduation would be an error that disregards research."

About 25 states will require exit exams for graduation by 2009, according to the Center for Education Policy in Washington, D.C.

Some states with mandatory exit exams for graduation have been sued for denying students a diploma, Noor said.

The number of credits for a diploma will increase from 22 to 24 credits in 2010, and the required math credits will jump from two to three.

"We agree with the idea of raising diploma standards because we've done that in our district," said Teresa Sayre, instructional services director.

The Phoenix-Talent School Board raised the credits required for graduation from 24 to 27 credits, effective for this year's eighth-graders.

In 2012, the number of credits students must earn to graduate will increase from two to three in science and from one to three in a choice of second language, arts and career and technical education. The math credits must be at Algebra I and above beginning in 2014.

Some Southern Oregon educators complained Thursday that the new diploma standards don't require a second language.

"It's criminal that we don't have foreign language all the way up the grades," Zundel said.

Theresa Levy, ODE diploma project coordinator, said schools don't currently have "the capacity" to offer a second language to all students.

"In the future, the (education) board wants to look at second language on a K-12 basis," Levy said.

Some school officials had expressed concerns that they wouldn't be able to find enough math and science teachers who sometimes leave the profession for higher pay elsewhere to fill the positions needed to meet the upcoming requirements.

In response, the education board crafted provisions in which students might be able to earn math and science credits through electives.

Students also can earn credits by showing proficiency through a test or work samples. For instance, if a student speaks Spanish already they might be able to earn credit by showing their skills, Noor said.

"I really like that idea, but the record-keeping part is something we need to consider," Sayre said.

An ODE review panel is working on how exactly that will be accomplished.

One example might be giving a math credit for an engineering elective or a science credit for an agriculture science elective, as long as the student demonstrates the appropriate skills and a teacher endorsed in either math or science approves it.

Phoenix High School will pilot a similar program next year in which students can earn half of an economics credit for a business elective called "Virtual Enterprise," which meets several of the state standards in economics, Sayre said.

"Its an advantage for students because they can double up on credits in one course," Sayre said.

See www.ode.state.or.us/search/results/?id=368 online for more information.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.