HELENA - The state's top public school official, Denise Juneau, will be asking the state Board of Public Education Thursday to adopt new, more rigorous academic standards aimed at making Montana high school graduates better prepared for college and jobs.
"They are higher, clearer and more rigorous than what we currently have," Juneau said in an interview Wednesday. "It provides a higher bar."
Juneau also said the new standards for language arts and mathematics, developed with the help of a national, state-initiated program and teachers and other educators in the field, will make it easier for parents to know what their kids should be learning.
"They are much more descriptive of the type of content and explain very clearly what a student should be able to do at the end of each grade level," she said. "They are much more understandable than we've ever had before."
Juneau, the state superintendent of public instruction, plans to recommend at the board's meeting today in Great Falls that it accept the new "common core state standards" for language arts and math. Standards for social studies and science are still being developed.
If the board agrees, it would hold public hearings on the standards with an eye toward officially adopting them by the end of the year. They could be in effect by the beginning of the 2012 school year, Juneau said.
Common core state standards is an initiative led by the National Governors Association, the Council of State School Officers and several education groups. Juneau and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer entered into the process in 2009.
So far, 43 states have adopted the new standards.
Montana already has achievement standards for its public schools, outlining what students should know by the fourth, eighth and 12th grades. The new common core standards list goals for every grade.
They're also more detailed, Juneau said. For example, the current math standard might say that a high school graduate should know algebraic functions, but the new standard will say which algebraic functions the graduate must know.
Montana's core standards also will incorporate Indian Education for All, Montana's constitutional requirement to teach students about Native American culture, history and contemporary issues, she added.
Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the union representing Montana's public school teachers, said Wednesday the union supports the new standards - but that he believes current standards already have done a good job preparing Montana students.
He also said that while core subjects are important, they shouldn't be over-emphasized to the point of crowding out other elements of a public education, such as music, art and other non-core subjects.
"There is a whole array of educational opportunity that ought to be offered to our kids out there, and it's not just math, English and social studies," he said.
Juneau said the new standards have been "well-vetted" by Montana teachers and others in the field, and that they eventually will provide a new level of accountability for teaching kids what they need to know, both for succeeding in college or the job market.
About 30 percent of Montana high school graduates need remedial classes in writing and math when they go to college, and the more-detailed and tougher standards could help reduce that number, she said.
If the standards are adopted, they also would lead to a new system of testing, which would enable students here to be compared to students in other states with a common standard, Juneau said.