As Wisconsin schools prepare their students and teachers for more rigorous coursework, lawmakers have introduced legislation that also would increase the number of math and science classes high school students must take before they graduate.

Instead of two credits each of math and science courses currently required to graduate under state law, Wisconsin public school students would be required to obtain three under legislation introduced Monday by Rep. John Klenke, R-Green Bay, and Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon. Under the proposal, school districts could choose to accept up to one credit of computer science to count as a math credit and could elect to accept agricultural sciences courses as science credits.

Lawmakers will meet Thursday to discuss the proposal.

The goal is for Wisconsin schools to produce more competitive students, supporters say. This comes at a time when Wisconsin school districts are implementing the Common Core State Standards, a new curriculum designed to demand more critical thinking from students.

“If you look across the country, we have the lowest required credits for graduation,” said Sarah Archibald, education policy adviser for Olsen. Archibald said the increased requirements sets an expectation of having competitive students compared with other states’ students.

Wisconsin currently requires students to have 13.5 credits to graduate, though most districts require more. In comparison, Illinois requires 14 credits, Minnesota requires 21.5 credits and Michigan requires 16 credits. On average, Wisconsin school districts require about 21.5 credits to graduate according to John Johnson, spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction.

All of those states require at least three credits of both subjects except Illinois, which requires two credits of science.

“We’ve gotten to the point that many members finally understand that Wisconsin’s performance is not as spectacular as we once thought it was,” said Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains. “It’s time for Wisconsin to join up and do the right thing.”

Pope said in previous unsuccessful pushes to increase requirements in math and science, she worried dropout rates would increase.

“My suspicion was it would result in the unintended consequence (of) some kids dropping out because they just couldn’t face another year of math and science, but we have become much more flexible in Wisconsin in what is considered to be a science credit,” Pope said.

Marj Passman, Madison school board member and former schoolteacher, said though she is wary of any educational mandate from lawmakers, her chief, and only, concern is where the funding will come from if the new requirement becomes law.

“There’s nothing wrong about it — in fact, everything is right about strengthening what we do in our schools and it’s wonderful to say, but if you’re not going to fund it … and they are notorious for that,” Passman said. “If you want this, and this seems like a reasonable thing to want from your graduates, then give us the money to do it.”

Archibald, Johnson and Pope said there hasn’t been any discussion to address what the new requirement could cost individual districts, or if the state would send more money their way to pay for them.

Johnson said an amendment to be introduced by Olsen that would provide flexibility in the kinds of courses that would count toward each requirement is expected to soften any added monetary burden on districts.

Johnson said career and technical education courses, for example, could be counted toward the science or math credits depending on the coursework. He said state Superintendent Tony Evers is supportive of allowing courses in agricultural science, computer science and career and technical education courses to count. DPI has proposed such an increase in requirements for years.

In the eight districts immediately surrounding the Madison School District, the Middleton-Cross Plains School District is the only one currently requiring more math and science than state law requires.

Jack Markin, science department coordinator at Middleton High School, said the implementation didn’t require additional staffing in his department because 90 percent of the school’s students already were taking three years of science.

In the McFarland School District, superintendent Scott Brown said its science department is proposing increasing requirements to the school board in December. The math department will follow soon, he said.

Brown said he doesn’t expect the district’s budget to be greatly affected as about three-fourths of high school students already are taking three credits each of math and science.

“We looked at the data relative to it and around 75 percent of students take three credits of math and science already so it would have an impact on our budget — we may need additional space and may need some staffing — but not (much),” he said.

Madison School District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said 18 percent of last year’s district graduates only took the minimum two credits each of science and math.

“We don’t anticipate this would have a major impact on staffing,” she said about the proposal.

In the 2012-13 school year, 45.2 percent of districts had more math credit requirements than state law demands and 37.1 percent in science, according to figures provided by DPI. Ten years ago, 29.6 percent required more math the state required and 20 percent required more science.

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(14) comments

Doc2012

When we moved from a Dallas suburb several years ago our kids were about a year ahead in Math and Science of the local kids in a relatively "good" Wisconsin school district. They were expected to do more homework and projects in the suburban elementary and middle school in Texas that they ever did in high school in Wisconsin. If it wasn't for the local school district allowing them to jump a couple levels in Math (they took Algebra in 7th grade and AP Calc in the 11th grade) and Wisconsin Youth Options they would have been completely underwhelmed with school. When we asked the teachers why they required so little, the response was that if they required more the parents would revolt. Our kids are the future of the state (if they choose to stay here both of our kids are now in graduate programs in other states), if we want a mediocre future for our state then we can continue with mediocre education expectations.

TheWholeTruth

I think that we should strengthen what we have first. Improve the quality of math and science instruction, then expand. Also, require the charter schools to meet the same standards as public schools through documented testing. If kids don't know how to make change or understand the difference between nuclear fission / fusion, what good will two more credits be.

mzd
mzd

I would have thought the Republican Party/flat earth society would be moving the other way :-;

truthzeeker

Are we really addressing the problem correctly by adding more courses in math and science? it seems that maybe we need to concentrate on those students that have the capability for being proficient in math and science. lets face it, all students are not going to be good in those two subjects. I do feel that all students should be exposed to math and sciences, but at the same time we need to funnel the gifted students in those two areas into more specialized classes to allow them to develop a greater aptitude in those two fields. We need to get over the much abused phrase that “all people are created equal” and direct students into the areas were they will best perform. It may cause the school to make some hard choices but it will also create more gifted students in those two critical areas.

snootyelites

That is the crux of the problem. Even if you perform at AP math & science level it's all relative - there has to be minimum tracking of the best & the brightest in math & science in Wisconsin.

The best high school in Wisconsin is 235th in the nation. The best high school in the area Middleton is 400 as gauged by Math & Science scores.

Really my friends cousins niece with tin roof for school in India can kick ass your $10,000 a year student few times over. No joke! K - 12 education is at its infancy of creative destruction. Some learning shift from school to home is a big part of it.

johnnn

I support more stringent graduation requirements, but suspect we are soon also going to see legislation introduced to redefine "science" as anything a) mentioned or alluded to in the Bible or b) preached from a Christian pulpit..

bro

How much math and science does the average high school graduate actually need? This is the question no one is prepared to answer. First we heea about all the gold collar jobs such as welding, yet we want the kids to take every math class. This sounds good to the ignorant politician, but for every math and science credit a student takes, they sacrifice a class where they actually learn to apply these two areas. Requiring Technology and Engineering Ed, Business Ed, or Family and Consumer Ed would make much more sense. It sure is funny how people with zero teaching experience know what is best for schools.

hankdog

bro:

A good foundation in math is necessary to be a good welder, to be or proficient in many of the trades. A kid going into the trades may not need CP English or History, but math and physics is essential.

lute

The uninformed legislators are fixated on the number of "credits" required.
Statements like “It’s time for Wisconsin to join up and do the right thing” are just plain ignorant. Wisconsin students consistently rank near the top in math in state comparisons. Legislators and their "advisors" (who are too often connected with right wing groups like the Bradley Foundation) are not to be trusted. And whenever Luther Olsen pushes education legislation, one needs see how his wife (and the CESA) will benefit.

Stop blindly buying into the "$TEM" craze and think about it! This is not a law we need.

blitzgirl

While talking about course requirement changes. How about requiring all students to take a financial education class to learn about budeting, balancing your bank account, determining what rent you can afford, can you afford a loan, about buying a home. This would benefit ALL students whether they go on to further education or not.

GodHeals

More importantly: How many children can you afford.

Nav

This is a good bill that should be supported by all. We have too many students lacking basic math and science skills when they graduate from high school. I would like to see at least 6 credits in these areas.

seriouslyfolks

There is a flaw in your logic - if students lack basic skills, wouldn't it make more sense to improve the current curriculum rather than adding to it?

GodHeals

How much did Cathy Stepp have of Math and Science in her end degree of High School have? In case you forgot, Cathy Stepp is the WDNR hating, according to her own writings and public speeches, Walker appointed head of the WDNR's Scientists and Engineers. How much lower education could Walker have gone to head the WDNR? Grade school?

None-the-less, it is healthy to increase math and science standards far beyond where they are today.

Newest TIMSS data indicates little progress for US 8th graders
By Patricia Delaney
Director of Media Relations
and Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor
Eighth-grade students in Asian nations outperformed their peers worldwide in mathematics and science achievement, according to a 38-country study released last week by a research team based at the Lynch School of Education.

The study found that Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan had the highest average achievement in eighth-grade mathematics. Chinese Taipei and Singapore had the highest average performance in science, closely followed by Hungary, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

Researchers also found that boys tend to have a more positive self-concept than girls in mathematics and science, and that, from grade 4 to 8, the average instructional time for mathematics begins to decrease but increases for science.

These results were part of the findings from the TIMSS 1999 study, presented at a Dec. 5 press conference in the Shea Room of Conte Forum by representatives from the International Study Center at Boston College and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

The report builds on the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study, the largest and most comprehensive international survey of achievement ever undertaken in these subjects. TIMSS 1999 assessed the mathematics and science performance of more than 180,000 eighth-grade students in over 6,000 schools in 38 countries in 34 languages.

Eighth-graders in the United States finished 19th in mathematics achievement, 18th in science, according to TIMSS 1999. These results represented no significant change from the 1995 study.

The TIMSS 1999 directors said the study is intended to offer valuable data for educational policy makers while shedding light on how curriculum, instruction and other factors - ranging from teacher confidence to classroom environment - influence student achievement.

"TIMSS 1999 data provide invaluable international benchmarks that can be used to help define world-class performance in mathematics and science at the middle or lower-secondary school level," said International Study Center Co-director Ina V.S. Mullis. "Beyond comparisons in mathematics and science test scores, however, the reports provide rich information on educational policies and practices around the world."

Added ISC Co-director Michael O. Martin, "TIMSS is truly a rich resource. The reports provide considerable grist for the conversation about what we want schools to accomplish and how we can go about improving the teaching and learning of mathematics and science."

While the focus of the study was on overall international comparisons, said IEA Executive Director Hans Wagemaker, "participating countries now also have the opportunity to examine and explore those factors that help explain their international rankings. Such analyses provide powerful tools for policy analysis and intervention."

Among the other major findings in TIMSS 1999, students generally had positive attitudes towards mathematics and science, although less so in countries where science is taught as separate subjects at the eighth grade. In each country, researchers said, a positive self-concept in the ability to do mathematics and science was associated with higher achievement.

Eighth-grade mathematics teachers also were found to have more confidence in their teaching preparation than science teachers, with 63 percent of students on average taught by teachers who believed they were very well prepared. In contrast, eighth-grade science teachers reported only a moderate level of confidence in their preparation. Almost 40 percent of students on average were taught science by teachers who reported a low level of confidence in their preparation to teach science.

But the study directors noted that among specific countries, the degree of teacher confidence did not necessarily relate to student achievement in the subject. In the US, for example, 87 percent of students were taught mathematics by teachers with high confidence, compared to 18 percent in Thailand and 8 percent in Japan. Yet while Japanese students attained a considerably higher average achievement than their US counterparts, Thai students fared poorer than the Americans did.

Teachers across the participating countries reported that teacher lectures and teacher-guided student practice remain the two most predominant activities in mathematics class. Science teachers reported spending almost one-quarter of class time on lecture-style presentations, 15 percent on student experiments and 14 percent on teacher-guided student practice.

Videotapes of American and Japanese mathematics classes in TIMSS 1995 revealed that outside interruptions can affect the flow of the lesson and detract from instructional time, researchers said. Internationally in 1999 for both mathematics and science, about one-fifth of the students reported that their classes were interrupted pretty often or almost always.

"It is difficult to know the specifics of teacher-student exchanges in the classroom from simple surveys," said IEA Chairman Alejandro Tiana. "This, and other aspects of TIMSS, point up the need for countries to do their own in-depth analyses."

The TIMSS World Wide Web site contains more information on the study.

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