By Casey Hans
Chelsea Cendrowski’s sprint toward graduation in 2011 has been challenging, but the Community High School senior said she would have taken the same class load, regardless of changes in state graduation requirements that take effect this year.
“I figured it would be hard, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to,” she said. “High school is hard, but I don’t think most students dislike the requirements. I guess I think it’s a good thing.”
Cendrowski and her senior classmates will be the first to graduate under the state’s new Michigan Merit Curriculum, a set of tougher, more rigorous standards that have required Ann Arbor and other public school districts to reshape their curriculum.
The class of 2011 will be the first that must complete the new requirements including four years of math, three years of science, four years of English Language Arts, three credits in social studies plus additional credits in physical education and health, visual, performing and applied arts and an online class experience.
In all, the MMC requires 16 credits in specific subject areas to graduate. Before the changes were signed into law in April 2006, the state required only a ½ credit in civics to graduate from a Michigan high school.
By the time the Class of 2016 walks, a two-credit foreign language requirement will also be in place – or equivalent experience over a student’s K-12 career.
Cendrowski and her friend, Pioneer High School senior Rachel Shevrin, who also takes classes at Community, were surprised to hear that the state had previously required only the civics class to get a diploma. Both said they would have challenged themselves with a rigorous school plan, regardless of the change, to be sure they would get into a good college.
“College has been a driving factor since freshman year,” said Shevrin. “My counselor asked me where I wanted to go (to college) my freshman year. College has been a factor as to which courses I take.”
Cendrowski has her eye on a nursing career and Shevrin is leaning toward a study of social justice and the environment. Both do volunteer work in addition to their studies and say it is rewarding – and a necessity for them as they begin applying to college.
Shevrin said she was given a “big book of charts” in the ninth-grade to make her high school plans and she noted that because she is enrolled in both Pioneer and Community “requirements are different when you’re dualling (dually enrolled at both high schools,)” she said. “It was more difficult to get into classes.”
Her online requirement turned out to be a summer blended personal fitness course, which combines some online work with class site visits. “Personally, I didn’t care for it (the online.) But, now it works for me to dual.”
Multi-year class review and adjustments
Although Ann Arbor school officials said the district’s standards have always been higher that the state’s basic requirement, the new state requirements have required a review of all classes, how they are taught and how they are assessed to ensure results.
Ann Arbor staff members have been working for the past four years in a detailed approach to adjusting standards, rewriting course syllabi and making the changes needed to ensure the new state curriculum is followed, said Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Joyce Hunter.
The process has involved teachers, counselors and administrators. “Work has been done at the district level through the buildings and all the way down to the classrooms,” Hunter said. Work began on the changes at the end of 2005, she said, when it was apparent the curriculum would be changed. “There’s been a lot of work across the district and in individual buildings.”
The process integrates multiple standards and creates common assessments for classes and involves not only high school curriculum, but also how students prepare to enter high school from earlier grade levels.
For example, the district has instituted foreign language in elementary schools through a partnership with the University of Michigan. Next fall students in grades three through five will have language instruction preparing them to enter middle school where language electives are already offered.
The district is also considering an Algebra I requirement in the eighth grade – something that is now an elective. Mastering this gateway class earlier will help students prepare for high school and the additional requirements, Hunter said.
This year, the instructional staff has begun working on pre-Algebra trends and outcomes for elementary students, said Interim Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley. The district is preparing to adjust curriculum at both early and late elementary grades to prepare students and set the stage for the expected middle school requirement.
A K-12 Math Summit is being planned for the current school year that will address aligning curriculum and professional development toward the proposed math changes.
State change affects accreditation
In 2005, a state task force met to study education policies and consider more rigorous standards for Michigan. In the spring of 2006, the state legislature approved the new graduation rules and on April 20, 2006, Gov. Jennifer Granholm approved them. The new rules also state that a high school may not be accredited unless it ensures that all students have access to all part of the curriculum and requires the state superintendent of schools to update accreditation standards annually.
Hunter said public school districts face several challenges, and not only with the revisions to local curriculum.
“We need to provide support for students who are taking some classes they never had to take before,” Hunter said.
Counselors take on an even more critical role under the change, ensuring that students are on track to graduate starting with their first year, Hunter said. She said there is some concern among counselors about helping students fit all of the necessary items into their schedules and still take some of the electives that round out their high school experience.
Students agreed, but said that technology has made communicating with their counselors easier and also given counselors tools for keeping an eye on student progress. “We do a lot of e-mailing – and they monitor what we’re taking online,” Shevrin said.
The district allows a “personal curriculum” which allows for deviations from the state standards for students who want to exceed the curriculum or for students with disabilities, Hunter added.
Information about the new high school graduation requirements, including downloadable PDF reports. can be found on the Michigan Department of Education website.
Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools.
E-mail her or call 734-994-2090.
Michigan Merit Curriculum
In April 2006, new statewide graduation requirements called the Michigan Merit Curriculum (Public Acts 123 & 124) were signed into law. This year’s class of graduating seniors, the Class of 2011, is the first that must meet the new standards.
The Merit Curriculum requires 16 credits for graduation including:
- 4 Credits in Mathematics including Algebra I; Geometry, Algebra II (one course must be taken during senior year.)
- 4 Credits in English Language Arts, with one class taken each year.
- 3 Credits in Science with use of labs including Biology and Chemistry or Physics.
- 3 Credits in Social Studies including .5 credit in Civics; .5 credit in Economics; as well as credits in U.S. History & Geography; and World History & Geography.
- 1 Credit in Physical Education and Health.
- 1 Credit in Visual, Performing and Applied Arts.
Additional requirements: Students must take an on-line course or learning experience or have it incorporated into the required credits of the Michigan Merit Curriculum. Also, beginning with the Class of 2016, students will need to complete 2 credits of a world language in grades 9-12 or have an equivalent learning experience in grades K-12.
Credit may be earned through alternative course work, humanities, career and technical education, industrial technology courses or vocational education. Credit can be earned through accelerated course placement, advanced placement, dual enrollment or an international baccalaureate or early college program.
Parents may request a “personal curriculum” in conjunction with counselors for students who seek to exceed Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements or for students with disabilities who need special accommodations.
Source: Michigan Department of Education