EASD supports changes in grad requirements

By on October 24, 2018

One size never did fit all and that’s why administrators of the Ephrata School District are pulling for a Pennsylvania Senate bill, that, if passed, will change high school graduation requirements.

Senate Bill 1095 is expected to pass before the Senate adjourns, District Superintendent Brian Troop told members of the school board Monday evening, Oct. 15.

The bill amends the “Public School Code of 1949,” according to website information about the bill.

A lot has changed since 1949, including public education, and the workplace to which graduates will be entering, so it’s time for a change.

“With Senate Bill 1095, they’re getting ready for a vote, and if it passes students will no longer have to pass required state tests to graduate,” Troop said. “This is a good thing for the students, because these tests may not be necessary for their career path.

“The challenge is that students are going to be taking a test that they know they don’t have to pass,” Troop explained.

The Keystone Tests won’t hold a student back from graduation if the student fails, however, the test results will reflect on the teachers’ evaluations.

“With higher scores (by the students) the teachers get better evaluations,” Troop said.

That plan is currently part of the state’s “school performing proficiency” evaluations, Troop said.

So the challenge is to keep the students interested in their scores on the state tests, even though the scores have little value to their own success.

If the bill becomes law, students who are currently freshmen will be the first senior class to be affected.

“Overall, I think it’s a good thing not to hold that over their heads,” Troop said of the state testing.

Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Richard Hornberger agreed with Troop that getting rid of tests that may no longer be relevant was a good idea.

“They will still have to show proficiency in certain areas and they’ll still need to show accountability,” Hornberger said. “But it gives kids options and gives us (the school district) some more autonomy, more local control, and that’s a good thing, especially with our Life Ready Graduate program.”

Students will continue to address obligations set by the federal Department of Education, Troop said, including testing in math, language arts, and science.

The bill has included acceptable options for graduation, such as locally established minimum grades in academic content along with completion of an advanced placement project, or attainment of local grade requirements plus alternative assessments, or an apprenticeship.

According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) website, the association “applauds” Bill 1095 for extending opportunities for students by providing multiple pathways to demonstrate readiness for high school graduation.

Board member Glenn Martin, PSBA Region IX Legislative Liaison, explained another bill, House Bill 1386, that would provide for less stringent certification for special education teachers, if passed.

The meeting was held in the cafeteria of the intermediate school, where Principal Kevin Deemer introduced fifth and sixth grade students who did a presentation about goal setting and shared some of the goals they have already accomplished.

“Life Ready Graduate is a big part of what we do now and we work on it every day,” Deemer told the board. “Through goal-setting, students can develop an understanding of responsibility, grit, and determination.

“Skills can go unnoticed and students don’t always recognize the skills they have, so their teachers can help them to see what they’re able to do,” Deemer said.

Fifth grader Mason Maske,11, said his goal was to have a mini-bike and he worked all summer, doing chores like mowing lawns, to earn enough money for his mini-bike.

“It feels amazing,” Mason said of achieving his goal.

Sixth grader Allison Williams said her goal was to do better in math.

“It’s my favorite subject and I want to get more math points,” Allison said. “It makes me feel kind of proud of myself when I set time aside from playing video games to study.”

Soccer player Marie McCracken,11, and in fifth grade, has a goal to make a goal.

“I want to make a goal from mid-field,” Marie said. “I have a nice shot so I think I can make it. I push myself to achieve my goals; at school I want to become better at math.”

Paytyn Jones,11, said one of her goals is to become a better writer.

“I’m writing a lot more and practicing and I feel good that I take time to study,” Paytyn said. “Goals can help you feel good about yourself, and you can set goals to help others.”

Deemer said the students are encouraged to write their goals on purple or gold arrows and attach them to a large bulls-eye target.

“It’s a visual to show we can accomplish goals and we can do some great things,” Deemer said.

“Goals inspire students to do things outside the box,” Deemer said. “Obviously school is important and getting good grades is important, but they’re also looking at things outside school, like how to be better people and how to help others. We’re excited about where we can go with this. It’s definitely a life skill they’re going to need.”

In another matter, Dr. Troop said that the murals being painted by several students to be installed at the Whistle Stop Plaza are nearly complete.

The murals are a combined project of the Ephrata Development Organization and the high school, with the assistance of artist Katie Trainor, and they have a train theme.

The murals will be unveiled Friday, Oct. 26.

“Ownership through projects like this increase positive feelings about the community and helps the students realize they are contributing members to the community,” Troop said.

In other business, the board approved the creation of a new position, that of student program support technician.

The support technician will serve as the primary oversight for the development and expansion of student learning opportunities within the student-led Mountaineer Technology Support Program. Whoever fills the position will also serve as a district technician with the technology services department.

The board also approved an agreement with Advanced Medical Personnel Services Inc. to provide speech services at a cost of $70 per hour.

The board approved a collective impact partnership agreement with United Way and “Plant the Seed of Learning” for 2018-2019. The district will be using their portion of the award for “Plant the Seed of Learning.”

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