Lawmakers consider increasing high-school graduation requirements

By Taylor Beck

JEFFERSON CITY — The state House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education panel looked at two measures Wednesday that would require more from Missouri high schoolers before they graduate.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, looks to require students to enroll in math and science courses their last two semesters before entering higher education. Currently, students are required to take three years of math and science courses, so many choose not to take one their senior years of high school. Hinson said this causes problems when they enter college and haven’t studied math or science for two or more years.

Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri System, said he doesn’t know if this proposal is the best way to go, but many first year students struggle with math courses.

“Is it because they didn’t take it in their senior year? Possibly in some cases,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe also said employers in Missouri are telling him that the universities are not producing enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Larry Davis, who spent 30 years as a superintendent for schools in Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota, spoke in opposition to the bill.

“If you mandate what students have to take, it gives them very little as far as electives,” Davis said.

Davis also said the state requires “enough” of students, and passage of this bill could hinder vocational technology programs which are very popular in rural areas.

The committee also heard a bill, dubbed the “Student Accountability Act,” that would require students to take certain end of course exams before receiving their high school diploma. Bill sponsor Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, said it would be a more accurate way to see how students will perform in college and beyond.

The bill would require, starting with the 2017-2018 school year, all public school students to pass at least one state assessment taken after eighth grade in each core area. Core areas include:

• Mathematics.

• Communication Arts.

• Social Sciences.

• Science.

If students do not pass a test in each area before graduation, they may receive a diploma of “local achievement.”

Rep. Michael Butler, D-St. Louis, voiced concerns, but liked the idea of holding students more accountable.

“I’m not afraid of taking hits on some kids not graduating if that means they’re not prepared to go into the world,” Butler said.

The bill also states a special education student whose individualized curriculum would not be accurately reflected in a state exam may receive a diploma of “local achievement” as well.

No one opposed the bill, but some said they were concerned about how special education students may be affected.

The committee did not vote on either bill, but did approve a measure to ban bullying in schools, as well as a bill requiring schools to publish a letter-grade report card for each school building to the House.