Beginning with the class entering this fall, seniors will have to show a 10th grade level of reading and writing ability to graduate under a plan currently being developed by the Board of Education.
The board voted unanimously last week to have their Policy Committee begin working on a policy outlining the requirement. The standard was proposed by both the Policy Committee and the Curriculum Standards, Development and Implementation Committee.
Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of the , said literacy is one of the most important skills a graduating student can have, but that this requirement is not included in the state standards. He said he believes few if any schools in Connecticut have a literacy standard. Graduating students in New London are required to earn a certain number of credits, including a demonstration of English proficiency. This can be done through demonstrated skill on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test or by “satisfactorily completing a district-performance task designed and assessed by New London High School teachers.”
However, these standards are not precise enough to require students to be sufficiently literate upon graduation. There is no definition for satisfactory completion of the district-performance task, and state law does not allow the CAPT to be used as a high-stakes test. The district cannot prevent a student who fails the standardized test from graduating.
The requirement will have students demonstrate functional literacy, or the ability to understand words and apply them to a task. This is a higher standard than basic literacy, in which a person understands only certain words and phrases such as those on traffic signs.
Students must demonstrate literacy in one of four ways: achievement on the CAPT; demonstrated ability using the Northwest Education Association standard for reading skills and Pearson standard for writing skills; passing the General Education Development test for English; or passing the Informal Reading Inventory, which uses a Pearson writing sample and portfolio of student work.
“There has to be more than one way to determine if a kid has acquired language, so here we’re trying to offer multiple options,” said Fischer.
Fischer said the effort will be paired with existing programs for students who are not native English speakers or in special education. He said about 20 percent of the students are considered English Language Learners, and generally pick up the language faster if they are introduced at a young age. He said provisions would have to be made for both ELL students and special education students to determine how they could reasonably be expected to meet the literacy requirement.
The literacy requirement will also borrow from a special education requirement giving those students access to services until they are 21 years old. Students will have the first opportunity to demonstrate literacy in 10th grade, allowing them two additional years of school to meet the requirement if needed. They will also have free access to Adult Education courses, evening courses, and online programs to work toward the requirement until age 21.
Board of Education Secretary Jason Catala said on Thursday that he wanted to ensure special education students would not be left behind by the requirement. Board member Louise Hanrahan said the requirement could be adapted to their needs. Fischer said he feels about 90 percent of special education students could meet the requirement, with another five percent capable of earning a certificate of completion.
The board’s attorney determined that establishing a literacy standard would not violate state or federal guidelines.