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Penn Hills academic requirements raised

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2001

The Penn Hills School District is raising the academic bar for students who graduate in 2004 and beyond.

The school board voted this week to increase the number of units required for graduation from 23 to 25. A unit is the equivalent of successfully completing a class that meets for the entire school year or two classes in similar subjects that meet for one semester each.

Graduation changes
These standards will have to be met by students hoping to graduate from Penn Hills High School beginning with the class of 2004. The changes require students to successfully complete 25 units of credit, instead of the current 23 units.

During their high school years, students will have to obtain:
  • Four units of credit in English.
  • Three units in mathematics.
  • Three units in science.
  • Four units in social studies.
  • Two units in arts and humanities.
  • One unit in health and physical education.
  • One unit in technology.
  • Seven units in electives.
  • Diane McKissick, the district's director of secondary education, explained the changes are partially in response to the development of new state standards in the areas of science and social studies.

    At the completion of their four years of high school in Penn Hills, this year's freshman class will be required to have four units of credit in social studies instead of the current three units.

    By the end of the 2003-04 school year, graduating seniors must also successfully complete at least one unit of credit in the new field designated as technology.

    High school Principal Richard Napolitan said there are some basic core curriculum requirements set by the state, such as four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies and science. He added that most school districts already exceed those guidelines.

    But rather than dictate an exact number of credit units, the state Department of Education leaves the specifics up to the individual school districts, a state spokeswoman said.

    Where the state has stepped into the educational equation is in the area of minimum standards, as outlined in Chapter 4 of the state's educational guidelines for curriculum set by the Legislature.

    'The main purpose for the standards is to prepare students for future success in school and in life, whether they join the work force or continue in higher education,' said Beth Gaydos, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

    There are already state standards in place for reading and math, which provide the basis for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment testing.

    'We have developed science and technology standards that are all but completed, and there's a chance that they could go into effect for the 2002-03 school year,' Gaydos said. 'And there are proposed standards for civics, government, economics and geography, although it's still very early in the process.'

    The drive to increase graduation requirements in Penn Hills began about two years ago, when school officials surveyed about a dozen other districts.

    'I would not doubt that down the road, we will eventually have standards for everything,' Napolitan said. 'At the same time, we want to give our kids a myriad of choices.'

    For the new technology credit, Penn Hills already has developed a series of half- and full-credit courses in technology that include keyboarding, computer programming, Web site development, home page design, digital animation and digital photography.

    A half credit would be required during the freshman year, with at least another half credit during the next three years.

    'The debate has been long and drawn out concerning the balance between science and social studies,' McKissick said. 'This will strengthen our students' backgrounds in civics and political government, which will coincide with the development of state standards in those areas.'

    The current social studies requirements call for civics in the ninth grade, world culture in the 10th grade and U.S. history in the 11th grade.

    Other social studies courses previously offered as electives include: contemporary issues, politics and government, law and society, psychology, sociology, ethnic studies and Afro-American history.

    Responding to a question from school board member Kathryn Bolte, McKissick said that the district probably won't have to hire more teachers, at least in the early going.

    Bolte also asked if there would be opportunities for students to enroll in additional technology courses if they have no desire or inclination to take the courses offered in the areas of arts and humanities.

    The district previously had placed a limit of three units of credit in music - chorus, orchestra, band - and three units of art. But with the increase of credits from 23 to 25, students graduating in 2004 will now be permitted to take four units in art and music.

    Tom Jewell can be reached at tjewell@tribweb.com or (412) 380-8516.

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