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Kate Thomas

A high school education without the required algebra II or geography? Or how about taking advanced computer science for the required chemistry or physics class?

The new proposed high school graduation requirements from the South Dakota Department of Education emerged Monday night at the Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education meeting, and the district is not yet sure about the state's new vision for high school standards.

"We are evaluating the proposals, sharing our feedback with the State Board of Education, and considering implications," said Katy Urban, district spokesperson.

The Board of Education Standards' proposed package of high school graduation requirements, which received a first reading in early May, envisions college-major-like tracks. Beyond the basic high school requirements, students could also aspire to the "advanced," "advanced career" or "advanced honors" endorsements. Each approach has a separate suite of classes: personal finance or economics for the "career" track; modern or classical language for the "honors" track.

But it's the standard high school requirements — those classes that every student graduating from high school in South Dakota, regardless their "endorsement" needs to take — that undergo a substantial change. 

The proposed changes strip away specific requirements at the diploma-level for content areas. Gone is the 1-unit requirement for World History and geometry, and the .5-unit requirement for Language Arts. In a release, the South Dakota Department of Education touts the improved "flexibility" and "student engagement" in the proposed curriculum. 

"The flexibility is aimed at better supporting schools to provide opportunities to meet students' diverse interests and goals," says the Department of Education website.

But when conversation emerged on the proposed changes following a presentation on career and technical education, it was clear some questions remained.

"You still have to have three math credits, but it didn't have to be algebra II and geometry," said board member Kate Thomas. "Can some of these classes you're describing here be one of these maths?"

Board member Sheryl Kirkeby, who retires at month's end, said she'd been in a fight with this for a really long time giving districts greater latitude as to what constitutes a "math" unit.

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"It is determined by the Regental system what's counted as a math class, and I don't think it's fair or right because geometry in construction has a math component to it," she said. "Obviously business finance has a math component to it. There are a number of courses that have huge math components to it, but they're not recognized for it, and that drives me crazy." 

Kirkeby talked about visiting a high school in Las Vegas on a "career" — rather than an "academic" pathway — and witnessed students in a cuisine class creating menus.

"The whole class was a math class, and they were finding out if the quantities they had was correct," she said. "It was beautiful to watch."

But Superintendent Lori Simon did not seem convinced the flexibility the new state graduation requirements may afford was necessarily worth the loss to traditional academic disciplines. 

"I certainly think there needs to be more flexibility within some certain areas," Simon said, "but at the same time we want to make sure everyone is being held to a rigorous level of education, as well."

Simon encouraged one board member to continue the conversation "offline" and encouraged the public to review and comment on the proposed changes. Last week, in a news release, the Department of Education also announced the public has until July 12 to comment on the proposed graduation overhaul by visiting rules.sd.gov and following the "Department of Education" link. 

Contact Christopher Vondracek at Christopher.Vondracek@rapidcityjournal.com.

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