Providence planning to tweak high school graduation requirements

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence schools Supt. Chris Maher confirmed Tuesday the city is planning minor changes to its high school graduation policy, removing a foreign language requirement in favor of more elective courses.

The Providence School Board’s Policy Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed changes at a meeting Wednesday evening. Maher said the district is trying to move “toward school-based decision making.”

“The idea is simply to try to give schools more flexibility in terms of what their requirements are,” Maher said. He said the district’s goal is to give students a “wide variety of high school experiences” that will better prepare them for college and the workforce.

The R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education sets the minimum requirements for public high school students to earn a diploma, which include demonstrating proficiency in English language arts, math, science, social studies, the arts and technology as well as successful completion of 20 courses and two performance assessments.

But the state allows individual districts to set other expectations, such as additional coursework, mandatory participation in standardized exams or a community service requirement.

A review of Providence’s proposed graduation policy shows the district is moving from a required 21 course credits to 20 credits, which includes dropping the existing requirement for students to complete two foreign language courses. The district plans to add a third elective class to the mandatory course load for students.

Providence’s other requirements – four years of ELA and math, three years of history and science, two years of physical education and half a year each in arts and technology – will remain in place, according to the policy.

“A lot of parts of this policy are trying to get in line with RIDE’s requirements,” Maher said, referring to the R.I. Department of Education.

Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket and East Providence, the state’s next four largest communities, all require students to earn more than 20 credits, but none have a foreign language requirement. North Providence and Cumberland do require students to take foreign language classes.

Maher stressed that no foreign language courses are being eliminated by the changes. He noted that many students in Providence already speak multiple languages; 25% of city students with learning English as a second language during the 2016-17 school year, according to data published by RIDE. Education.

While the state does not require students to take a foreign language in high school, it will award a biliteracy seal for students who have “demonstrated skill in the use of the English language and one or more other world languages” beginning with the class of 2021.

When it comes to standardized testing, both RIDE and Providence are stopping short of making participation a graduation requirement. The state has encouraged districts to comply with a federal law that mandates standardized exams be administered in grades three through eight and at least once in high school. The state intends to publicly identify schools whose testing participation rate falls below 95%.

Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, Rhode Island will use the PSAT and SAT exams to fulfill its standardized test obligations for high school students. Both exams are offered in school and at no cost to public school students.

Providence’s four-year high school graduation rate was 78.5% in the class of 2016, according to the most recent available data. The state’s graduation rate was 85.3%. State officials have set a goal of reaching a 95% graduation rate by the class of 2025.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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