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Students to face greater expectations

LAWRENCEVILLE - When Gwinnett's high schoolers return to school this August, they'll receive new social studies textbooks, follow an updated curriculum - and find they'll be held to higher expectations than some students in years past.

The increase in expectations won't end with social studies classes. Over the next few years, Gwinnett County Public Schools will be phasing out the technical-level core classes, making all students take college-preparatory English, math, science and social studies.

Students will still be able to choose their electives, take classes through Maxwell High School of Technology and Grayson High Technical Education Program, and receive a technical seal on their diploma, said Tricia Kennedy, the school district's executive director of curriculum and instruction.

"It's going to be more of a challenge for some students," Kennedy said. "We want to reassure parents and the community that we feel this is not a radical change for students."

Because the curriculum for technical and college-prep classes is similar, students won't see much of a change in the content taught, Kennedy said. The pupils will see a change in expectations for what they are expected to do and learn, she said.

The school system decided to eliminate the technical core classes based on the recommendations of a cross-functional action team, known as an XFAT, Kennedy said. The team found that students who are held to higher expectations perform at higher levels.

Gwinnett Board of Education Vice Chairman Carole Boyce said there has been some confusion in the community about the new expectations.

"We certainly don't want for the kids to be set up for failure," Boyce said. "We have found repeatedly that a curriculum that is rigorous is certainly beneficial to the students."

Boyce said she thinks having all students take college-prep core classes will provide the children with more options once they graduate. Students who are held to higher standards will develop better critical-thinking skills and stretch themselves to achieve at higher levels, she said.

Schools such as North Gwinnett that have piloted this program have found it to be successful, Kennedy said. North's Principal John Green could not be reached for comment Friday.

"We have not seen an increase in student failure rate," she said.

For students who may struggle with the new expectations, schools will be prepared to offer elective classes that teach study skills and to offer tutoring and enrichment sessions, Kennedy said.

With the exception of math classes, all technical-level core classes will be eliminated by the 2010-11 school year.

High school technical-level math classes will be removed a grade level at a time, and those classes will be gone by the 2011-12 school year, Kennedy said. That timeline corresponds with the state's proposed timeline to eliminate technical-level math classes, she said.

The state Department of Education is proposing a change to graduation requirements. The new requirements, if passed, would affect this year's rising eighth-graders, said Dana Tofig, the DOE's spokesman.

The state's proposal is to add rigor to the core classes, require all students to take four years of math and science classes, and to eliminate the tiered diploma system with a single high school diploma. Requirements would apply to all students except those with severe cognitive disabilities.

The state's proposal is available for review online at www.gadoe.org.