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Federal Way schools will customize graduation standards

The Federal Way School Board made it official: The district is now striving for Standards Based Learning.

It was the first major policy change made by the board under a new policy governance model. Rather than using only what is required by the state for graduation, mainly a standardized state test, the school district will come up with several standards it wants students to meet.

The district will spend the next few weeks figuring out what standards, or benchmarks, a student must reach to move on to the next grade. The standards will vary by class and grade level, and have not yet been determined. In the past, some ideas that have been mentioned include making sure students can read a certain book or pass Algebra 2 in order to graduate.

"I really commend our board on taking this great leap," board vice president Angela Griffin said. "This is a great feat, we are one of none."

Griffin said she had sent staff members on a wild goose chase trying to find other school districts who were doing what Federal Way has now done.

With the policy governance, the board members outline an end result they would like to see. They then leave it to district staff to find ways to achieve that result.

"This policy is one of the first attempts by this board to write policy in a policy governance system," board member Suzanne Smith said. "It's a lot of work trying to stay true that that."

The district said the decision was just the latest result in a move that has been 10 years in the making.

The next steps

The district will now have its staff define what a full standards based system looks like, using think tanks. Depending on their budget, Teaching for Learning Director Josh Garcia said they hope to have someone work full time to facilitate the process.

By fall 2010, they will have implemented several standards at each grade level. To do this, they will bring together teams of staff members at each grade level to identify "power standards" for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will decide which standards must be mastered to move up a grade level. Garcia said there is a possibility of up to 10-15 standards for each subject in each grade level. They will also use outside sources, especially for programs in the Career and Technical Education programs.

"We'll design the curriculum, but do it with information from the field," Garcia said.

Starting in winter 2011, they will create a rubric for each "power standard" and create an assessment system to measure the standards in a tiered manner.

After that, the district will make sure that any changes they make still align with state standards, as well as any standards for the advanced classes like International Baccalaureate. They will also have to continue to train the staff as well as give status reports to the board.

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