/Grads may get up-graded diplomas

Grads may get up-graded diplomas

Mississippi Today reports that education officials in Mississippi are looking to modify the state’s high-school diploma options. This comes after a national study last week raised concerns about the value and worth of a high school diploma. The details of the new state diploma options remain unknown. Education officials informed Mississippi Today that they are working to create one diploma, with students able earn multiple endorsements, including career tech, academic, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Jean Massey is the executive director of secondary education. “We wanted to ensure that students understand the meaning of their diploma and that parents understand it so that they are ready for the next steps, whether that be post-secondary (education), military, or a career.” The new standards were developed by educators, parents and people from business and higher education. They are expected to be approved by the State Board of Education in January. The new options will be effective in 2017-18 if approved. Carey Wright, the State Superintendent of Education, stated that the new diploma options “are increasing the rigor”. Students currently have five options for obtaining a diploma in the state. These include the Mississippi Occupation Diploma option for students with special needs, career pathway, district option and early exit exam. Officials said that the occupation diploma will be eliminated under the new model. Many in the state education sector take pride in Mississippi’s higher graduation rate as evidence that their students are better prepared. However, Achieve, a national non-profit education reform organization, has released a report questioning what a high school diploma means. Achieve, which advocates college and career readiness for students and analyzes 95 diploma options across the nation, looked at which states require students to take courses that academically prepare students for life after highschool. Mississippi’s traditional diploma meets Achieve’s definition of college- and career-ready. This means students have completed at least four years of rigorous, grade level English courses, and at least three years of mathematics through Algebra II, or an equivalent math course. Other options available to students for graduation in Mississippi do not meet these standards. Current diploma options. Although lawmakers and higher education officials expressed concern about the state’s spending on remediation every year, the state only began tracking the number of in-state students who graduated with an alternate diploma at the close of the 2015-16 schoolyear. Massey stated that there is not much information available because most districts aren’t reporting it. She did however note that most students receive a standard diploma. Achieve examined the state reports on 2015 high school graduates. It found that most states don’t publicly report how many students earned each type of diploma. The report stated that “the lack of transparency means there are still more questions than answers in many states about the true value a high school diploma.” Marie O’Hara (associate director of state policy implementation support at Achieve), echoed this sentiment. She said that all states should track how many students from each subgroup opt out of certain course sequences or modify their courses of study in order to ensure they graduate college and job-ready — regardless of whether the state requires CCR (College and Career Readiness), course of study to earn diplomas. “It is particularly important for states that only award one diploma and allow students to substitute for or opt out of certain courses to determine if this policy provides an appropriate, but infrequently used safety loophole or a safety valve.” Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning, which supervises the state’s public universities and colleges, has its own standards for admissions, based on Carnegie units. One Carnegie unit is 120 hours of contact or class time with an instructor during a school year. To be admitted to a public university or college in Mississippi, students must have completed a minimum number of Carnegie units in English and math. College administrators state that although they don’t consider the diploma the student receives, alternative diplomas are likely to ensure the student does not meet the minimum number of Carnegie units required for core courses. It’s a Catch-22. John Dickerson, Mississippi State University’s assistance vice president for enrollment, stated that if the student has one of these certificates, they won’t have the core courses necessary to meet IHL admission requirements. “They have to meet these admission standards regardless of what diploma they have,” said John Dickerson, assistance vice president for enrollment at Mississippi State University. Unless specified programs require otherwise, community colleges will accept any diploma or high school equivalent diploma. To place students, colleges use their ACT scores. National report findings: The Achieve analysis of diploma requirements across America found that seven states and D.C. have established the expectation that all students will receive a diploma that meets College and Career Readiness requirements for English Language Arts and Math. Mississippi is one 27 state where students have several diploma options. However, at least one of those options falls short of College and Career Readiness’ (CCR) requirements in English Language Arts and Math. Students with CCR requirements were graduated in Minnesota, Nebraska, West Virginia, and West Virginia for the first time in 2015. Graduation rates remained the same or increased. Nearly 16,000 students were able to complete a CCR course in 2015 than in 2014. This is compared with the 12 D.C. states. 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