The long arm of the federal No Child Left Behind law has reached all the way from Washington D.C., into your child's science class.
Because of NCLB, all districts in the state are putting their science curriculums into lockstep. In School District 2, this means a mandatory earth science class for ninth-graders.
In the past, students could take earth science, or if their grades and test scores were up to snuff, take honors biology as freshmen.
"If you were in honors biology, then you could take honors chemistry as a sophomore, honors physics as a junior and then take an advanced level of one of those classes as a senior," said Sherri Cornett, the mother of two district students.
The addition of a mandatory earth science class worried Cornett because it meant her daughter, Emma, would have to take biology as a sophomore, chemistry as a junior and physics as a senior. She was afraid this would eliminate Emma's ability to take the advanced classes necessary for her to attend selective science colleges.
So Cornett and several other parents met with district Curriculum Director Rhonda Boyd, who explained why the change was made and how their children can take the advanced classes they want.
Boyd said that in 2008, the federal government will require NCLB science testing for one grade in elementary, one in middle school and one in high school. To prepare for this, the state is requiring all students to take earth science, which covers subjects like plate tectonics and meteorology.
"We can't skip it anymore, even if you're in the honors class," Boyd said.
But Boyd was able to give parents like Cornett some relief. High school students have six periods from which to choose classes, of which four are locked into required courses. If a student chooses to "double up" course requirements and take, say, biology and chemistry together as a sophomore, then that gives the student the ability to take an advanced-level class like physics 2 as a senior.
Another option is for students to take classes in the fantastically named "Zero Period," which runs from 6:55 to 7:55 a.m., just before school's 8 a.m. start. Taking a class in this period frees up time to take another class during the day.
This is good news for Cornett. Her son, Colin, is in ninth grade this year and won't be affected by the change. But, Emma, a fourth-grader at Boulder Elementary, is interested in science and Cornett wants her to have every opportunity to pursue her desires at a top-tier college.
The earth science-biology-chemistry-physics course is fine for state college-bound graduates, she said, "but for highly selective colleges you have to have a minimum of these classes. These are just the minimum."
She said selective colleges have such a high number of applicants - she said Yale University gets 12,000 applications for 1,200 openings - that high schoolers need the advanced classes both to draw attention to themselves and so they can be comfortable in college science classes.
She said she doesn't want to get into what she called the "New England mentality of 'I have to get my child into the best pre-school possible so their future is ensured'." But she said the sheer numbers of applicants make the college entrance process competitive.
"The classes are available at the high schools. We just have to be made aware of them," she said.
Besides the science requirement change for next year's ninth-graders, there is a change in the social studies-physical education requirement.
Previously, ninth-graders took global studies/street law along with their mandatory English, math and science classes. The mandatory 1½ credits of physical education/health enhancement could be taken any time in high school.
Next fall, the global studies/street law requirement goes away in place of a year of physical education/health enhancement. The student can pick up the remaining half-credit for physical education any time during the next three years. In 10th grade, students will take world history, and the social studies requirement will continue through their junior and senior years.
The change was made to accommodate ninth-graders' maturity level, which one guidance counselor suggested was more suited to physical education than global studies.