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Fewer electives, higher costs if grad rules change

For businesses and individuals everywhere, the challenge of the last few years has been finding a way to do more with less, and it’s no different for schools. The Coupeville and Oak Harbor school districts are feeling the weight of an ever-expanding list of state requirements as their funding continues to dwindle.

The Washington State Board of Education has approved a proposal that would require the senior class of 2016, this year’s seventh-graders, to obtain 24 credits for high school graduation. Currently the state requires only 19, but as a district, Coupeville requires 21 and Oak Harbor 23.

Though the increase of a few credits seems like a small change, the problem comes in the areas in which the credits are required. Students at both districts will be required to get an additional math and science credit and two world language credits. And Oak Harbor students will need to get an extra half credit in English to satisfy a four-credit requirement; Coupeville already has that standard in place.

Oak Harbor Superintendent Rick Schulte said the change would require the district to hire more English, science and language teachers, counselors and create additional classrooms for the extra lab sciences. Additionally, the new requirements would force students to take fewer electives, even though Oak Harbor board members believe electives are essential to a solid education.

Right now Oak Harbor allows students to take up to eight and a half electives while Coupeville allows for five. The proposed graduation requirements budget for two.

“There are students that if it weren’t for career tech classes probably would not be in school and may never go to a four-year college,” board member Corey Johnson said. “I think the state’s really missing the boat.”

The new requirements are designed to prepare every student for a four-year college, but board members aren’t sure that’s what all high school kids need. Oak Harbor High School officials estimate that about 70 percent of their students pursue some sort of secondary education after graduation. Based on student surveys, about 40 percent intend to complete a two-year program or attend a technical school while only 25 percent plan to apply to four-year colleges.

The new graduation requirements are contingent on receiving funding from the Legislature in 2011. If the proposal goes through, Schulte said Oak Harbor may consider alternatives like letting students satisfy two requirements with one credit or may allow two required credits to be waived for students who fail a required class and take it again. Members from the State Board of Education are taking feedback about their proposal in an online survey at www.sbe.wa.gov.

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