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Profile of Learning May Be on Borrowed Time
by Tim Pugmire
March 10, 2000
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The Minnesota House Education Policy Committee has approved legislation to overhaul the Profile of Learning graduation standards. The measure retains, but significantly scales back the controversial show-what-you-know system. The panel also kept alive a separate plan to entirely replace the Profile with a back-to-basics approach.

The graduation standards, which include basic skills tests and a unique set of performance assessments called the Profile of Learning, have been the subject of considerable debate in recent years. Most reporting on the standards has focused on the debate in political arenas, so Minnesota Public Radio sent a trio of reporters into high schools to observe how teachers, parents and, most of all, students are coping with the graduation standards. Over the course of five months they found successes and problems, but perhaps most telling, they found a pervasive sense of confusion and uncertainty reflected in a phrase that came up repeatedly - "guinea pig kids."
THE PROFILE OF LEARNING requires students to demonstrate what they've learned in 10 subject areas through projects and performances. Under current law, the class of 2002 and beyond must complete 24 standards in high school before they graduate. Students in lower grades also must meet certain standards. Teachers, parents and students have complained about aspects of the complex system since it was implemented statewide a year and a half ago.

The House bill would reduce number of Profile subject areas to six. The number of standards students must achieve drops to 12. The unique grading system and lesson plans, known as performance packages, are eliminated. The bill also puts the system on indefinite hold while it's thoroughly reviewed and evaluated. The Legislature would have to take future action to repeal that moratorium.

Governor Ventura has threatened to veto any legislation that significantly alters the profile. His education commissioner, Christine Jax, says the administration opposes a repeal of profile or an indefinite moratorium. Jax told committee members she's also against a reduction in the number of standards or learning areas. "We have heard from rural areas that they are very concerned if there are not 10 learning areas, they are not going to be able to offer the equity across the board," she said.

Leaders in the DFL-controlled Senate also oppose a reduction in the number of standards schools must offer, but they're proposing to let schools decide how many are required.

Earlier in the day, the House committee rejected an attempt to eliminate the Profile and replace it with a back-to-basics system, called the Northstar Standards. But in a late-night resurrection, legislators referred the bill to the House K-12 Finance Division. Republican Representative Tony Keilkucki says his Northstar plan, with its extreme remedies, would be a better bargaining position for Profile changes.

It's unclear when the K-12 Finance Division will take up the Keilkucki proposal. Meanwhile, the House Education Policy Committee's Profile bill is headed to the House floor, and could be voted on a soon as next week.