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What It's Worth
by Cara Hetland
February 11, 2000

The Legislature will decide this session whether to make any changes to the state's new graduation standards, set to take full effect with this year's tenth graders.

Minnesota's Profile of Learning is supposed to push students to higher levels of achievement. These high standards are intended to better prepare students for life after high school but employers and college admissions officials say they still need to know more before they can embrace the change.

TREVOR KNOBLOCH raises a red Grand Prix on a hydraulic lift. He'll change the oil and rotate the tires. The Hills-Beaver Creek sophomore works everyday after school at Kevin's Transmission on the main street of Hills in extreme southwestern Minnesota. Knobloch expects he'll become a mechanic full time after he graduates. He wants nothing more than to focus on shop classes in school, but unless the law changes, he says he'll be forced to take fewer classes that interest him in order to fulfill the graduation standards and Profile of Learning.

The Learning Areas
Read, Listen and View: Read, listen and view complex information in the English language.

Write and Speak: Write and speak for a variety of academic and technical purposes.

Literature and the Arts: Apply and interpret artistic expression.

Mathematical Applications: Solve problems by applying mathematics.

Inquiry: Conduct research and communicate findings.

Scientific Applications: Understand and apply scientific concepts and methods.

People and Cultures: Understand interactions among people and cultures.

Decision Making: Use information to make decisions.

Resource Management: Manage resources for a household, business or other organization.

World Languages: Communication in a language other than English.
The transmission shop where Knobloch works has three repair stalls with boxes of filters and other spare parts stacked along the walls. Knobloch has worked at the shop for only a short time, but he's allowed to do many tasks.
Knobloch: I do all kinds of things. I'll take off transmissions, I'll take off brakes, I'll take off drive shafts, I do about anything he wants me to do.
Knobloch says most everything he knows comes from what he learned from his grandpa and what he's picking up on the job. He says he's an average student in school - gets mostly C's - but he's focused on what he wants to do and what it'll take to get there.

Shop owner Kevin Kraft says he knows nothing about the new standards facing Knobloch and his classmates, but he does know mechanics need more computer training than earlier generations to work on cars. He says schools need to be more attuned to what the students like Trevor Knobloch want to be.
Kraft: If they're interested in math or something, yes, the grades are important. But he's more interested in mechanics, so those classes probably be more important to him.
As the law stands, the Profile of Learning requires students to complete 24 of 48 possible standards from 10 learning areas. Nine of the standards are required for all students; 12 are chosen from different class groupings and three are elective. Each standard requires a "performance package" that's similar to a special project and has a grade of one to four that's separate from the overall class grade.

Profile supporters say the new system will better prepare students like Knobloch for the workplace by exposing them to a curriculum designed to improve problem-solving skills.

Hills Beaver Creek elementary principal and Profile of Learning technician Janet Knoll says educators keep hearing they need to change how students learn.
Knoll: I think it came more as a result of business and so forth telling us students really weren't ready for the real world and that the kinds of knowledge they're getting in schools and the kinds of information they had and the ways they were being taught and assessed didn't make them valuable in the work force; and we needed to kind of change that and be sure that students had real-world applications, and were ready to function as productive members of society.
But Knobloch and his 25 sophomore classmates at Hills-Beaver Creek are easily frustrated over the purpose of the graduation standards performance packages and separate grading system. They wonder who's going to look at it and pay attention to it.

LaDonna Sandstede spoke for many during a class discussion.
Sandstede: You take these for Minnesota, but what if you go to a college in South Dakota or Iowa? Do they look at these? And what if they just threw these away? Why'd you do them anyway then?
College admissions officials say they're unsure what they'll do with the information, and it's too soon to know. Wayne Siegler is the director of admission at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. He says the U will always look at class rank and standardized A-C-T and S-A-T test scores.

Siegler says they also require standardized course prerequisites, which are similar to the pre-Profile graduation requirements. They include four years of English, three years of math, science and history, some foreign language and liberal arts.
Siegler: The more students are familiar and have a good grounding in the basics before they enroll here, the easier the transition from K-12 to higher education would be; that's what we're all about, a seamless transition to help ensure success once they enroll here.
Siegler says the course-completion requirement has been in place for several years and was not a result of the Profile of Learning. He says he does expects admission requirements to change with time as students, teachers and colleges develop the grad standards.

Hills-Beaver Creek math and computer science teacher Roger Jackson says a flaw with the Profile of Learning is that the scores won't be as standardized as supporters hope. He says grading performance packages is subjective and each teacher does it differently. So work that receives a four - the highest grade - on one package could be the same quality as a three grade by another teacher. He says it's hard on the student's self esteem.
Jackson: You get an "A" student and they're doing very well and you give them a three because you think, well, it's good they met all of the requirements. But, you know, it could have been better. Of course, we can all do better, so you don't give them a four. Some of these students are really devastated by that.
While Minnesota's colleges and universities understand the concept behind the Profile of Learning, neighboring states are just starting to hear about it.

Augustana College Vice President of Admissions Bob Preloger says he never heard of the Profile of Learning until asked to comment for this story. Preloger says he's unsure how the Sioux Falls private liberal arts college will evaluate the profile scores on the students transcripts.
Preloger: There doesn't seem to be any discussion or dialog between higher education people, faculty in the classroom and secondary school educators or administrators to talk about how this will transition into a college or university setting.
Preloger says admissions to a college or university is based on three things: ACT or SAT test scores, class rank and grade-point average. He says the latest studies and theories on outcome-based education means nothing if colleges and universities don't participate.

Since the sophomore class is the first group required to complete the Profile of Learning, Preloger says it's really too soon to tell what his office will do with a Minnesota graduate's transcript. He says he'll likely ask more questions of the prospective student to find out what kind of work that he or she did in class.