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Monday, the Madison Metro School Board voted unanimously to lower the number of credits needed for graduation, from 23 to 15 credits during the pandemic. The board is also asking the state to waive a mandatory civics exam. Since 2017, students must pass a test identical to the US citizenship exam, and score at least a 65% to be able to graduate.
The Department of Public Instruction handles the statewide graduation requirements. DPI Director of Teaching and Learning Tamara Mouw says most students in Madison take the test in a US History class in 9th grade.
“In many districts across Wisconsin, the civics graduation requirements are not going to be a prohibitor for kids graduating,” she says, “because lots of times schools have already introduced this exam as a part of their course sequence to embed it in a meaningful way.”
But students who failed the test would need to retake it until they passed. OR get a waiver. The school board decided to ask for a waiver for 20-20 graduates.
Lisa Green, is the head of the school district’s Secondary Programs and Pathways department. She says the credit requirements changes will help some students, but not all students struggling to graduate.
“In essence some of the credit requirements that are no longer required just for this senior graduating class of 2020 are more of the elective class,” Green explains. “And the waiver supported some of our students but it was not a significant amount for that wavier, but it will help for some of our students.”
Nichelle Nichols is Head of the Equity, Partnerships and Engagement department for Madison schools. She says that when issues of virtual learning occur, the district has to act quickly, but must also consider if the response is equitable.
“Our district’s commitment to equity, specifically racial equity, has guided many of the decisions that we have made during Covid-19,” Nichols says. “We have embedded equity into our decision by holding ourselves to a series of questions. And those questions guide us to consider to students and families who are most impacted by the potential unintentional consequences of our decisions and what plans we will put in place for to mitigate those issues. ”
Nichols says that the school board approved Black Excellence programs for the remainder of the year, including a writing workshop and collaboration with UMOJA Magazine.
The district is also attempting to bring wifi to students without access. Building Services director Chad Wiese says there are two new options for internet access: a “dream bus” that can travel around the district and emit wifi, and five long range wireless access points on top of school buildings.
The access points are being installed this week. Students can walk or drive to one of these locations, and can get internet access while still practicing social distancing. Wiese says,“We are excited about this pilot. We believe that this is once again a short-term solution to what has been a long term problem.”
Wiese says nearly two thousand hotspots will come in May for families who don’t have internet in their homes. That will cost the district more than 500 thousand dollars, and the board approved the purchase on Monday.