Round Lake High part of state push to better prepare graduates
Round Lake Area Unit District 116 will be part of a statewide pilot program reshaping high school graduation requirements to better prepare students for college and meaningful careers.
Illinois State Board of Education officials announced at a news conference Monday in Peoria that District 116 and nine other school systems will participate in the first wave of the competency-based high school graduation requirements pilot program. Huntley Community School District 158 is among the other districts chosen for the program.
Officials said competency-based learning means educators assess and advance students based on demonstrated mastery of specific skills, abilities and knowledge, instead of just classroom time.
Round Lake High began using standards-based grading and mastery learning about seven years ago as part of an overhaul to boost lagging student achievement. Selection for the statewide pilot is considered a next step toward more complete competency-based education.
Susan Center, Round Lake High's assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, said students can't succeed after graduation if they receive only "a set of stuff, basically, that they've memorized." She said they need transferable skills they can gain through extracurricular activities, athletics, Advanced Placement courses and other areas.
"If I can write an essay, I can write an essay on any topic, right?" Center said. "If I can write an argumentative essay or give a persuasive speech, it doesn't matter what content you hand me; I have the tools ... to be able to do that."
District 116 Director of Teaching and Learning Michael Berrie said all instructors and administrators have been on board with the standards-based grading and mastery learning philosophy.
"Here, it is almost like the cherry on top of the sundae," Berrie said of being in the statewide pilot program. "It makes for validation of the tremendous amount of work and effort that's been done."
State education officials said the pilot program is expected to spur innovation in preparing high school students for the future.
Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said all 10 districts in the program will design a competency-based learning and credit system to bring more relevant and personalized education to students.
There also will be a greater integration of technology and improved use of teacher talent, he said.
"The way we prepare students for college and career must evolve if we want to fuel a thriving economy and healthy communities," Smith said. "When students leave our schools, they should leave with the keys to open multiple doors, any of which can lead to a successful future. In Illinois, although 86 percent of students graduate high school in four years, only 46 percent of students demonstrate college readiness."
About 49 percent of students enrolling in Illinois community colleges must take remedial courses, Smith said.
Others in the pilot program include Proviso Township High School District 209, Chicago Public Schools, Rantoul Township High School District 193 and Peoria Public Schools District 150.