The San Ramon Valley school district's personalized learning initiatives saw some progress at a modestly attended meeting Tuesday night, as the school board trustees advanced the first reading of policy changes that would redesign high school graduation requirements.
The key components of the revisions include reducing graduation requirements from 240 to 220 credits and allowing students to count up to 40 credits from accredited online, off-campus and summer courses toward their graduation requirements.
Overall, school board members expressed their approval of the revisions on the table, though they offered some minor changes to the language. The final reading, at which time the board will vote on whether to adopt the revisions, will take place at the Jan. 30 board meeting in Danville.
If passed, these changes will be implemented starting in the 2018-19 school year.
The revision that would lower grad requirements -- No. 10 of the district's proposed personalized learning initiatives -- is intended to lower student stress and "provide some cushioning" for students who might fail a course, need to work their senior year or want to pursue an internship, according to Toni Taylor, deputy superintendent of educational services. “This will offer our students much more flexibility,” she said.
Along with dropping the overall required graduation credits, this revision would bring required elective credits down from 80 to 60. The changes would apply to all comprehensive high schools and Venture Independent Study School, but they wouldn’t affect existing requirements at Del Amigo Continuation High School or for adult education classes, which currently stand at 210 and 180 requirements respectively.
Taylor added that some students sign up for a classroom teaching assistant position simply to fulfill an elective requirement. “And it’s not really of much value to that student,” she said.
High school students would also still be able to take up to 280 credits on campus if they desire.
Ekta Daryani, a junior at Danville's San Ramon Valley High School, spoke out against the proposal during a public comments period Tuesday night, saying that it would negatively impact the learning of students and make the district less competitive to colleges.
“More classes means a wider scope of knowledge,” she said. “If our requirements don’t require students to take a certain amount of classes, a lot of students are not going to willingly take a higher amount of classes ... Colleges want students who already have wider scopes of knowledge.”
In response, board members and staff pointed to other comparably competitive school districts, like Palo Alto Unified, that currently have 220 credit requirements, adding that colleges now are often looking for depth rather than breadth.
Superintendent Rick Schmitt added that universities receive a “school profile” along with a student’s application, and are aware of schools’ requirements and limits.
“They don’t judge students based on what they may be able to do, above and beyond the requirements,” he said. “In fact, many universities now are asking students to consider even less and focusing more on very specific outside courses and test scores, to really represent how they present themselves to universities.”
This particular idea has evolved over the last few months.
Previously, staff had presented the idea of integrating the high school health class curriculum into physical education courses and eliminating the world geography requirement, as an additional way to redesign graduation requirements. But after receiving backlash from teachers, students and parents alike, they scrapped those components from the initiative.
After all three speakers who came to the podium Tuesday during the item’s public comments period advocated for the retention of world geography and health as mandated classes, board president Ken Mintz addressed their concerns.
“These classes -- world geo and health -- are not being made optional, they are not being made into electives,” he said. “They will continue to be mandatory required courses. And a good portion of this is because we have heard from our students, we’ve heard from our educators, and we went through a process of taking ideas and changing those ideas until they made sense for us in our current environment.”
The revisions that would allow students to count off-campus courses toward graduation requirements -- No. 7 on the list of initiatives -- mostly involved adjusting the language in the current administrative regulations regarding non-district courses.
Taylor said that a couple thousand district students are already taking courses off-campus, all of which recorded by the district. Now, students would be able to assign up to 40 credits from these courses toward graduation requirements.
Students taking classes at heritage schools (district partner sites that teach languages not offered at San Ramon Valley schools) or CollegeConnect (a dual enrollment program offered in partnership with Diablo Valley College) are exempt from the 40-credit limit.
This revision would also change the minimum school day requirement to better accommodate students to take off-campus courses and to account for the lower graduation credit requirements -- currently, administrative policy states that students need to be enrolled in six classes at all times, at least four of which are required to be district courses.
The new resolution would change the language so that the minimum school day for middle and high school students is 240 minutes.
Aligned with the personalized learning changes, though not on the subject of graduation requirements, the board also heard the first reading of proposed revisions that would bring students’ drop-add-courses deadline down from six weeks to three weeks.
“When you let a student add or drop a course within the first six weeks, that’s a significant amount of time into a course, number one,” Taylor said. “And it takes a lot of time on the part of our counselors to make those schedule changes...It’s not teacher-friendly, and it’s not student-friendly either.”
Trustees expressed support of this change.
“Six weeks seems like an unreasonable burden on the entire system, let alone the counselor,” said board member Mark Jewett.
Like the graduation requirement proposals, the drop-add course deadline change is due to return for final consideration at the Jan. 30 board meeting.