The Joint Legislative Council Special Committee on Improving Educational Outcomes in High School met for the last six months to look at how the state’s public high schools meet the needs of all their students.
The study included the students who excel in a traditional high school setting and go directly on to college, the ones who complete their high school curriculum in fewer than four years and are looking for additional challenges and the ones who struggle in a traditional high school setting and need help finding a learning path that best suits their talents.
As co-chair of this committee, I can proudly say that while the charge was broad, the members were committed to thoroughly examining the needs of today’s students and the programs and policies in place to help them meet their goals.
At every meeting, there was meaningful discussion on the future of education in the twenty-first century, with thoughtful deliberation leading to approval of four bills the committee is recommending for introduction.
The committee held six meetings and heard testimony on the skills-gap, changes in workforce skills and the current preparedness of Wisconsin’s workforce.
We heard from speakers on the current programs and requirements in high schools including career and technical training programs, youth options and current high school requirements.
We listened to advocates for children with special needs and heard about a new set of tests for high school students called Explore Plan ACT, part of the ACT testing suite.
Based on the testimony we heard and our discussions as a committee, we developed a number of ideas for new legislation.
Much of the discussion centered on the need to make technical education more accessible throughout the state and committee members generally agreed that the work of this committee is just one step in the ongoing process of updating educational models to meet the needs of an ever-changing society. At the end of its work, the committee voted to recommend four bills to be introduced by the Joint Legislative Council and considered by the legislature this session.
The first bill would require schools, beginning in the 2018-19 school year, to provide access to an academic and career plan for each pupil in sixth through 12rh grades. The committee agreed that these plans would help move the education system, including parents and students, toward a model where each child’s educational plan is tailored to their needs.
This bill goes hand-in-hand with the second bill which would require that the Department of Public Instruction use the ACT suite of tests as standardized tests in ninth and 11th grade. It would specify that the ninth grade test be given within the first 30 days of school so that schools can measure a student’s skills early on in their high school career and so that parents and teachers can use this test as a baseline to determine growth. DPI would be required to report back to the legislature in five years with their assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of continuing to use the ACT suite of tests.
The third bill requires that students participating in the Youth Options program show how enrollment in a college class relates to the student’s academic and career plan. This requirement would begin in the 2019-20 school year, one year after the academic and career plan requirement would go into effect.
The committee discussed the fact that there are an increasing number of ways for students at all levels to earn dual credits and more work needs done to figure out the best way to create opportunities for students while managing costs.
The final piece of legislation the committee is recommending would increase the number of credits required for math and science. Currently, the state requires students complete two credits each in math and science although individual school districts may require more. This bill would raise the requirement to three credits. 40 states require at least three credits in math and 24 states require at least three credits in science.
As a study committee, our time was limited and I believe most of the committee members would agree that our recommendations are important steps toward increasing educational opportunities for high school students, but that these bills are only a beginning.