We agree with Utah legislators that a high school diploma ought to stand for something. Students who earn a high school diploma, at a minimum, should have skills that enable them to enter the world of work. Ideally, graduates should be sufficiently prepared to enter post-secondary education without the need for remediation.
In establishing core academics as a firm priority in the state's high school graduation requirements, there is a continued need to balance the core curriculum and electives that, for some students, are their primary reason for coming to school.
Public schools clearly need to ensure that students leave school knowing what they need to know in order to succeed in their next stage in life. Competency-based education demands that they can demonstrate their mastery of these subject areas. This makes sense on many levels. Students should be evaluated on what they have learned, not seat time.
Moreover, students cannot be allowed to slide by with "D" grades, a phenomenon that ultimately hurts them when they lack the wherewithal to be successful in the workplace or in post-secondary education.
For some students, earning at least a "C" grade will require intensive remediation while they are in school. If students who demonstrate mastery in the prescribed subjects move on to other pursuits and fewer resources are spent on electives, there may be enough wiggle room in school budgets to accommodate students who need more assistance. But this also supposes there will be a consistent infusion of new money into school budgets, which can be iffy at best. In 2004, for instance, the value of the weighted pupil unit will increase a mere $20, most of which will be consumed by increases in employee health insurance premiums.
Obviously, these changes will be a significant undertaking for the State Office of Education and local school districts. The state school board will hear the proposed new requirements during its meeting April 4. Parents, students and school officials should acquaint themselves with the proposed changes and give their input to the state board, which is scheduled to adopt new requirements in August.
For the most part, the proposed changes in Utah's graduation requirements shouldn't be a threat to students who do well. But the new standards will require more of struggling students, who in the past have been allowed to move along with their peers. If these changes mean that those students are given a hand up when they struggle in school, this approach should be a boon to them when they enter the work force or post-secondary education. It may mean more work during school, but if handled appropriately, the payoff should be more than worthwhile to them and their prospective employers.