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State boosts class time expectation

Several local districts will have to increase class time, hire additional staff and try to convince high school students to take more classes during their junior and senior year to comply with new requirements approved Thursday by the Oregon Board of Education.

The new rule increases the minimum number of instructional hours for students in the first, second, third and 12th grades and will be gradually phased in so that by the 2018-19 school year at least 92 percent of the students in the district and 80 percent of the students in each school are meeting the minimum requirements.

Cindy Hunt, manager of public and legal affairs for Oregon Department of Education, said the minimum time requirements hadn't been reviewed since 1989 and previously didn't reflect full-day kindergarten, which the state agreed to fund starting this fall.

State officials began evaluating the requirements last year after discovering that several schools in the Portland area were out of compliance with the state directive, Hunt said, adding that Oregon has been requiring fewer hours of instruction than most states.

The state's Board of Education Thursday voted unanimously, with one abstention, in favor of ODE’s proposed requirements with one amendment — that the board hold a public hearing every January for the next three years to discuss the implementation and financial obligation.

“From the beginning, it’s been about trying to get kids college- and career-ready, and I think that this is a step in the right direction,” Hunt said.

The new goals are not totally about hours in class. Instruction time, Hunt explained, now can include up to 30 hours of parent-teacher conferences (previously, there was no cap), up to 30 hours of professional development and, for first- through third-graders, up to 60 hours of recess.

However, classes canceled due to inclement weather can no longer count toward instructional time.

“Before, districts that started two hours late because of inclement weather didn't have to make that time up, but now, if they (fall below) the minimum requirements, they’ll have to make it up,” Hunt said.

 The minimum instructional time for first- through third-grade students jumped from 810 hours, not including recess, to 900 hours, which can include up to 60 hours of recess.

The minimum requirement of 900 hours for fourth- through eighth-grade students and 990 hours for high school freshman, sophomores and juniors remains the same. However, high school seniors, who were previously allowed to take a lighter load of 960 hours, will now need at least 966 hours of instruction time.

Schools offering half-day kindergarten this fall will be expected to provide 450 hours, instead of 405 hours, of instruction time. And schools will receive funding for full-day kindergarten when they offer 900 or more hours of instruction time.

Hunt said the new requirements will have little to no impact on a large number of districts statewide that are already offering more than 900 hours of instruction to elementary students and 990 hours to high school students.

“But about 30 districts were on the lower end so, for them, obviously, there will be additional costs,” she said.

Locally, the Medford and Phoenix-Talent school districts will have to add instruction time for first- through third-graders.

Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Teresa Sayre estimated that the district will need to add about 10 more hours of class time to those students’ schedules next year. To do that, teachers will have to forfeit professional development days, she said.

The district also will need to add classes at the high school level. Currently, freshman and sophomores are required to take seven periods, but  juniors and seniors on track to graduate are allowed to take one less period.

About 30 percent of juniors and 60 percent of seniors are currently taking advantage of their one release period, Sayre said.

But, if the high school is expected to have 80 percent of its students taking full course loads by 2018-19, then the district will need to add additional staffing and classes and convince students, who may already have enough credits to graduate, to go above and beyond.

“I’m not opposed to incrementally increasing instruction hours, … but I just think we need to be realistic about the amount of funding we are currently receiving and our ability to implement a meaningful program for students,” Sayre said. “Our capacity is really limited based on the funding we've been receiving for the last six or seven years.”

The Ashland and Medford school districts also will need to expand options for upperclassmen.

In Ashland, 63 percent of high school students are taking a full schedule of classes, according to Samuel Bogdanove, the district's director of student services.

“What this means is that juniors and seniors, who might currently have an out period which they might use for work or an internship or other things of that nature, will have much less flexibility because a higher percentage of them will have to enroll in more classes,” Bogdanove said.

Todd Bloomquist, Medford’s director of secondary education, said it’s still too early to say exactly how many additional teachers the district will need to hire to meet the new criteria. A new teacher, he said, typically costs the district about $80,000 in wages and benefits but would be able to teach about five or six classes.

On the bright side, seniors, who might otherwise have only taken four or five classes, will be encouraged to take more classes which will better prepare them for college placement exams and post-secondary classes, Bloomquist said.

He estimated that about 50 percent of seniors and 75 percent of juniors in the district are currently taking a full class schedule.

The state rules, however, won't necessarily force upperclassmen to take more classes, since many go into their senior years needing less than a full load to graduate. That means the districts will have to convince those students to take the extra classes, or increase graduation requirements.

Central Point Superintendent Samantha Steele predicted that the state’s new requirements won't have any impact on the district as students are already exceeding the number of instructional hours required.

Currently, about 98 percent of juniors and 88 percent of seniors are taking a full schedule of classes, she said.

“Professional development is valuable and parent-teacher conferences are valuable, but nothing is as valuable as the time students get in the classroom,” Steele said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.