Sun January 12, 2003
New RI High School Requirements
By Martha Bebinger
Providence – The Rhode Island Board of Regents is launching what it hopes will be fundamental changes at the state's public high schools. Regulations approved Thursday night include new literacy requirements for students of all ages who read below grade level.
The regulations begin with the premise that there are deep seated problems at Rhode Island's high schools. High drop-out rates, large, impersonal student bodies and an increasing number of graduates who need remedial college courses are just a few.
"They will be and they are dramatic changes for our schools," said Colleen Callahan, who chaired the regents subcommittee that drafted the regulations, "The on the ground implementation of that policy change is much more difficult than I think people understand. We're not talking about schools that have the ability to work from a blank sheet of paper."
High school restructuring is one of three areas covered in the regulations. The others are new graduation requirements and stricter literacy standards for all grades.
On restructuring, the regents are telling schools they must assign every student to an adult for the entire High School career and create a more personalized learning experience for each student. This is could include schools within schools, more consistent student-advisor relationships or a more comprehensive guidance program. Callahan says teachers will not be expected to become counselors.
"One of the things we tried to do was to avoid a one size fits all approach. I want to be very careful about not mandating to teachers that you are going to be in personal counseling kinds of situations that you're not comfortable with nor trained for," said Callahan.
In reviewing graduation requirements, regents rejected exit exams. Standardized tests may be one of the measures used to assess students, but the regents say requirements must also include individual projects, portfolios or public exhibitions. Board Chairman James DiPrete says students need to prove they can apply what they have learned.
"We're asking students not only to know the material, but to think about it, make decisions about and use higher order thinking skills. The age we're in, we need to know our subject matter, but we have to know how to use it," said DiPrete.
The changes may mean that fewer students graduate on time, but when they do, says diprete, their diploma will mean more than it does now. new graduation requirements will apply to students starting the ninth grade in the fall of next year.