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Academic overhaul in works in Janesville

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 15, 2012
— Janesville school officials plan a major overhaul of how high school students learn, in part to improve the so-so academic performance of Craig and Parker students.

More would be expected of students before they are allowed to graduate, said Kim Ehrhardt, director of instruction.


Students would be required to take more courses in core academic areas, but Ehrhardt said he doesn't want them to forego the arts and other elective courses.


To make room for electives, the seven-period day might become an eight-period day.


Specifics of the overhaul will be worked out over the next 18 months, Ehrhardt said.


Increased graduation requirements are on the horizon for all Wisconsin high schools as part of the state's request for the federal government to waive provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, Ehrhardt said.


Ehrhardt said students would begin to learn higher-level math in all the grades. Third-graders would learn the math now taught in fourth grade, for example.


Algebra would be the standard math class for eighth-graders.


In all subjects, middle schools and high schools would work to match the knowledge and abilities of outgoing eighth-graders with what is expected of incoming ninth-graders, something that has not been done enough, Ehrhardt said.


Janesville will join the national Common Core Standards movement. The standards aim to increase rigor in all subject areas.


"It's all about cranking up the rigor and relevance and engagement so kids are ready for the 21st century," Ehrhardt said.


Officials admit Janesville high school student performance overall has been lackluster.


"Our performance on local, state and national testing is static or in some cases trending downward," the high school principals acknowledged in a Feb. 28 proposal obtained by The Gazette.


"Our enrollment in Advanced Placement classes is strong. We've doubled it over the last 10 years, but we want to increase the success rate of people taking the exam. We're not where we want to be with that," Ehrhardt said.


Another way to boost performance is to ensure that high school teachers who teach the same subject are covering the same material, Ehrhardt said.


"Right now, no mechanism allows us to do that. It's not considered as important as it should be," Ehrhardt said.


Students entering ninth grade in September 2013 would feel the major effects first. They will be the first class to graduate under the new requirements, Ehrhardt said.


The school board would be asked to approve the changes next year. In the meantime, opportunities for public input will be a part of the process, Ehrhardt said.


The changes will require training and planning time for teachers, at an estimated cost of $4,000.


What's next


Here are the next steps in the overhaul of how Janesville high school students learn:


-- School officials are scheduled to discuss the project at 10:30 a.m. today on "Your Talk Show" on WCLO radio, AM 1230.


-- Janesville high school students will start their day two hours late Tuesday, March 27, so staff can learn more about Project Redesign. Staff members will meet at Parker High School that morning. Craig and Parker classes will begin at 10 a.m.



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