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State education officials seek more consistent standards

MALDEN, Mass. --State education officials Tuesday discussed new standards for high school coursework that could create more consistency across school districts and better prepare students for college.

The state Board of Education at its monthly meeting Tuesday began what will be a two-year study to explore establishing guidelines that would reflect the admissions requirements for state colleges.

The $2 million review, funded by a grant from the Republican Gov.'s Association, aims to find ways to ready more students for college and improve graduation rates.

"I'm alarmed by the fact that we're not preparing our kids for the world that they are facing," state education Commissioner David P. Driscoll told The Boston Globe. "We're coddling our kids now way too much, and they're the ones that are going to suffer the consequences."

The Board took no formal action at its meeting Tuesday, according to state Education Department spokeswoman Melanie Winklosky. The next step in the process is to establish a committee to examine uniform standards.

Guidelines could set uniform expectations in a state obsessed only with getting high school students to pass the math and English portions of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam, a graduation requirement, Driscoll said.

A statewide survey has found that requirements vary widely across the state and are not always in line with the requirements of the University of Massachusetts system.

Ninety-eight percent of schools required four years of English, but one-quarter required two years of math or less in 2001, the most recent year for which data are available.

Two-thirds of schools required at least three years of science, while just over a third required a foreign language.

The University of Massachusetts system, however, requires four years of English, three years of math, three years of science and two years each of history and a foreign language for admission.

Driscoll said he would form a committee to draft the guidelines, which he would like to see match if not exceed the UMass standards. The new guidelines would be implemented over the next two years he said.

In public school systems with high rates of college admission, most students are already meeting the requirements.

"I would say 90 percent or better are already taking that," said Thomas Hughart, director of guidance at Wellesley High School.

But in districts that are struggling, new guidelines could have an impact.

"Some students would have a great deal of difficulty with that," said William Samaras, headmaster at Lowell High School.

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