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School team adds its two cents to statewide debate over stiffer graduation requirements

Local school officials will join the debate over graduation requirements currently brewing at the Oregon Department of Education in Salem.

Forest Grove High School Principal John O'Neill solicited input from members of the school board Nov. 27 about whether - and in what ways - the benchmarks for earning a diploma should become more rigorous.

The ODE is 'moving toward a final set of recommendations on the high school diploma,' O'Neill told the board.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo is considering a number of revisions to the current requirements. Among other things, the changes could raise the number of math credits necessary for graduation; add a year of science to the current two years of required course work; and ask students to complete two additional credits in a second language, art or applied arts.

Changes would not be immediate but instead could take up to eight years to implement.

Superintendent Jack Musser said that no matter what the state decided, he wanted to see 'rigor and relevance' in the local high school's academic program - whether students go on to college or not.

'It's very apparent to me when I'm talking with people from Intel and other companies that they are looking for people with superior math and science skills,' Musser said.

School Board Chairwoman Susan Winterbourne said any bolstering of the requirements must include an equal measure of support from faculty and parents.

'You cannot raise the bar for kids without a level of support that will help them succeed,' she said.

Mike Steele, a professor at Pacific University and another board membe r, said he was in favor of bolstering academic rigor as a separate issue.

'I see three levels of students in my classes,' Steele said. One group has a general level of competency, 'which is OK,' he said.

High school graduates who took advanced placement classes represent a second level. 'The (students) who completed an International Baccalaureate program at their high schools just shine,' he noted.

O'Neill said he and district Curriculum Director Jennifer Frentress were examining a proposal for an IB curriculum at Forest Grove High.

Meanwhile, the ODE is 'trying to give everybody a chance to speak their minds' on the diploma requirements, O'Neill told board members.

A team of administrators at FGHS wrestled with a questionnaire about the proposed changes this fall and intends to send its feedback to the state.

The state Board of Education is expected to vote on the matter during a two-day meeting in Salem on Jan. 18-19, 2007.