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Lawmakers like new standards

House members pleased, but Senate likely will be more critical

From staff and news service reports

ST. PAUL -- Legislators took their first tour through proposed math and language arts standards Tuesday and pronounced themselves thoroughly impressed.

The new standards, which were quickly assembled by a citizens committee, are the opening installment in a batch of kindergarten through 12th-grade academic expectations. They are intended as replacements for the Profile of Learning if the Legislature abolishes those standards this session.

"I was amazed at how quickly and what a good job the committee was able to do in putting together the new standards," said Rep. Carla Nelson, a Rochester Republican and former teacher. "The new standards are concise, focused on higher learning skills and cull the best from other academic benchmarks."

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Winona High School teacher Rep. Gene Pelowski, a DFLer, said he'd need more time to absorb the new standards presented in committee Tuesday morning. But his initial reaction was positive.

"At first blush, it looks like something that is workable and appears to be understandable," Pelowski said, "which is a Herculean leap forward from where we were. It certainly isn't anywhere near as convoluted or unwieldy as what it's replacing."

Pelowski has been a vocal advocate of repealing the Profile, which its detractors say limits teachers' innovation in the classroom, emphasizes rote memorization and requires tedious record-keeping that takes time away from the classroom.

"They said it couldn't be done, and you proved it could be," House Education Policy Committee Chairwoman Barb Sykora, a Republican from Excelsior, told education commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke, who presented the draft standards. "I certainly hope there will be no real impediments in getting this show on the road this year."

The reaction in the House, which voted overwhelmingly to scrap the Profile, was not a surprise. The true test will come in the Senate, where leaders have been more supportive of the Profile and leery about getting rid of it without seeing its replacement first. A Senate committee presentation was planned for later Tuesday.

Yecke's goal is to have math and language arts standards ready for schools to use next fall. Science, history and geography will come later.

The new standards contain more specific facts and grade-level goals than the Profile did. It is built on broad concepts geared toward getting students to apply what they're learning through projects and demonstrations.

By the end of third-grade, for example, students would be expected to have some exposure to cursive writing. Fourth-graders would have to know basic keyboarding skills.

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Math requirements range from measuring time, understanding the value of money and identifying shapes in kindergarten to mastery of trigonometry, geometry, statistics and probability in high school.

Beginning Thursday night in Winona, Yecke will conduct 13 hearings in 15 days to get public feedback. She will use that input and that of legislators to fine-tune the standards before they come back to the Legislature for approval in April.

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