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ISBE Concerned About Increasing High School Graduation Requirements

State Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) during the General Assembly's Lame Duck session last week. Ammons was chief House sponsor of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' education agenda, which includes expanded high school graduation requirements.

Some members of the Illinois State Board of Education are voicing concerns that the state will soon adopt high school graduation requirements too burdensome for schools to enforce.

ISBE members made their comments during an ISBE board meeting Wednesday, one week after the General Assembly passed an omnibus education bill pushed for by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which included the new requirements.

The bill, one of a slate of equity-focused legislation passed by lawmakers during Lame Duck session last week, includes requirements for three new courses: computer science, laboratory science, and foreign language.

Both laboratory science and foreign language will be required for high school graduation. Schools will have until the 2024-2025 school year to offer laboratory science content, and until the 2028-2029 school year to implement foreign language instruction.

However, certain state education board members believe the legislature may have adopted such requirements without truly considering individual school districts’ capability or effective educational science.

“What's the best time to teach a foreign language? It is not high school,” Board member Christine Benson said Wednesday. “What’s the second worst time to teach a foreign language? It’s junior high. [Lawmakers] did no research on this, they just added it on.”

Other board members, like Susie Morrison, also pointed to the realities of the nationwide teacher shortage, and said the longstanding phenomenon could make mandating the new course offerings impossible

“I know an elementary school in our area who was looking for an immersion program,” Morrison said. “They couldn’t find a second-language teacher so they could continue to have that program.”

Morrison suggested it may be beneficial for the agency to stop and evaluate the broad scope of graduation requirements the state has demanded from high school students.

“I think that maybe it’s time that we as a board take a look at our current high school graduation requirements, because we just keep adding on and adding on,” Morrison said.

Board members also said requiring more courses like foreign language could conflict with Illinois’ push to emphasize career-and-technical education in Illinois schools.

A trailer bill is expected to be filed during the spring session in order to make revisions to the passed omnibus bill. One possible revision may include moving up the deadline to add foreign language courses from the 2028-2029 school year stipulated in the bill.

Gov. JB Pritzker is expected to sign the bill.