State revises high school graduation requirements

Students will need two U.S. history courses to earn diploma

by Sarah Gilbert

The N.C. State Board of Education approved changes to state social studies standards last week, including splitting U.S. History into two courses and emphasizing financial literacy.

Freshmen entering high school in 2012-13 will be the first students required to meet the new high school standards in order to graduate.

Students will have to pass two U.S. history courses instead of one, increasing the total number of required social studies courses from three to four.

The current U.S. History course will be split into U.S. History I, which will outline the discovery of the New World through the Reconstruction Era, and U.S. History II, which will study the 19th century through contemporary America.

“We received a lot of concerns about the amount of content in U.S. History,” said Cindy Bennett, director of curriculum and instruction at the Department of Public Instruction. “People asked how we could cover such a large amount of time with any depth and understanding in only one year.  By developing two courses, we’ll have time to go deeper into the content.”

Administrators at some school districts are concerned about adding courses during the budget crunch, Bennett said.

“The bottom line is that it will be up to principals to determine the best plan of attack,” Bennett said.  “The state will make sure everyone has what they need, including instructional resources and professional development, and they’ll have until 2012-2013 to determine the best plan.”

Bennett said districts’ options could include adding teachers, assigning U.S. History teachers to teach both of the new courses, using online instruction systems and allowing students to take required courses at community colleges.

“Some principals are concerned that adding courses may force them to cut other courses and limit their offerings, but we’ll be working with districts to roll this out,” Bennett said.  “We’re looking at all of our options and determining the best way to execute the plan.”

The revised standards also require a stronger focus on financial literacy throughout the curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“(Financial literacy) is embedded intentionally into the social studies curriculum so that students understand the fiscal impacts of events in U.S. and world history,” Bennett said.  “The new standards won’t mean new courses; the renewed focus will be integrated into existing courses.”

The new standards also emphasize N.C. history in fourth grade, U.S. history in fifth grade and world civilizations and geography in sixth and seventh grades.

“Our students cannot become productive citizens without an understanding of the people and events that have shaped our nation and our world,” June Atkinson, superintendent of the state board of education, said in a news release. “The curriculum that will be taught in our classrooms reflects the importance of these lessons as well as a high level of input from teachers, historians, parents, students and the citizens of this state.”

Under the new state standards, students will need 22 credits to graduate from high school, but Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ standards are more demanding.

Under the current district requirements, students need a total of 28 credits to graduate from high school, including three social studies credits.

To learn more about the new standards, visit

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools require high school seniors to complete a graduation project.

While the state board has decided to delay implementation of the Graduation Project, Charlotte-Mecklenburg students will continue work on the project as a local graduation requirement and the requirement counts as part of the total grade in their English IV class.

The project has four parts: a research paper, product, portfolio, and oral presentation before a review board. These four components are designed to be a culmination of the entire high school experience. The project requires students to demonstrate what they know and what they can do with the skills acquired in high school. Students will still be required to achieve proficiency on five End-of-Course tests as well in order to graduate.

The four components of the project are:

• A research paper demonstrating research skills and writing skills.

• A product created through the use of knowledge and skills in a meaningful way to accomplish a goal.

• A portfolio to catalogue/document tasks, record reflective thinking and insights, as well as demonstrate responsibility for learning as work progresses through the entire process

• An oral presentation during which students become a source of information communicating their project work before a review panel.

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