Raising Diploma Standards

Recently, numerous articles (here and here and here) have explained or editorialized about the Washington State Board of Education’s likely approval of a proposal to require students to complete 24 credits to graduate instead of the current 19. Since the state only funds 20 of those credits now, more money will need to be provided. Many schools currently use 5 period days, which would then need to restructure. Other factors come into play as well, including how many students currently never reach Algebra II (a new requirement under this new diploma standard).

I am again going to repost an article I wrote back in December of last year about having multiple diplomas. Maybe we can have gold, silver, bronze, and white diplomas or some other classification to show the level of work completed by students. Maybe the new standards–while not required of all students–could be the requirement for earning the top diploma. I still believe giving all kids the same diploma is disingenuous and somewhat deceptive. A diploma should reflect what is learned, the level of achievement. Here is my old post entitled “Differentiated Diplomas“:

I often wonder if a partial solution to helping colleges, trade schools, and employers determine the worthiness of students for their programs and businesses is the diploma itself. I anticipate my solution will not be popular among certain groups, but I do think it could eliminate some of debate over assessing student backgrounds and achievement.

My rough idea for four diplomas, which I would probably color code rather than officially name:

1 – The first diploma would be one where the student took the most rigorous coursework available, essentially an honors diploma for most students. Students could have their coursework scored on a points basis, and if enough points are earned then they would receive this diploma.

2 – The second diploma would be for students who took the mainstream (“normal” or typical) courses available to them when they have not earned enough points for the first diploma.

3 – The ELL (ESL) diploma for students who took a number of sheltered or ELL courses rather than reaching the basic standards or taking the basic course load of the mainstream student.

4 – The special education diploma for students with a large number of special education courses as part of their academic course loads. If the special education courses were merely support for the mainstream courses, then the second diploma would be earned.

These are just rough thoughts but make me wonder if it could be a potential assistance to determining or assessing student achievement. It may even lead to the elimination of the vast monies spent on testing and instead spent on more direct means of assisting students.

Just an idea I think about from time to time.

Any thoughts on this, especially in light of the new proposed higher standards?

7 thoughts on “Raising Diploma Standards

  1. Marc Lebendig

    As you may already be aware, Virginia does this. There is an “advanced studies” and a “standard” diploma, and a “modified standard” one is available for students with an IEP. I think this does solve the problem you mentioned, and I like it in every regard except that many students just opt for the Standard Diploma because they don’t want to be intellectually or academically challenged, and many schools/teachers are willing to oblige. Also, I have not seen any research on whether the Advanced Studies Diploma is actually more desirable to employers (although it may exist).

  2. drpezz Post author

    I would surmise that the Advanced Studies Diploma would be more of a focal point for colleges and other post-high school learning centers. As much as my district has put a focus on taking higher level courses and college preparation, we’re seeing about the same number of students in the upper level courses. The only exception might be the AVID students, though they, too, are now being much more selective about the upper level courses they attempt.

  3. Betty

    I remember reading your post and think it sounds like a good idea. Not everyone is going to pass Algebra II. There are a lot of students who struggle with Algebra I. It’s easy to put requirements on paper but a whole other thing to implement them.

  4. thehurt

    As a fellow WA HS teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion. I have seen several students who struggled with standard math courses and can’t imagine them being required to pass more advanced math like Algebra 2 to graduate.
    I know that our building has spent some time discussing changes in grading practices to reflect the same sort of differentiation, though nothing is set in stone yet.
    Of course, good luck convincing the state that this is a valid idea.

  5. drpezz Post author

    Betty – I see so many kids as well who will not reach Algebra II. It’s just so sad that the state wants a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Plus, the costs will be enormous.

    The Hurt – Welcome to the blog! I’m curious what your school has discussed regarding grading practices. Would you mind sharing?

  6. thehurt

    Much of what we’ve talked about revolves around 2 ideas: students meeting and/or exceeding standards and making the grading system more accurate. Because of our focus on standards, we want to find ways to measure student achievement in relation to those standards. Unfortunately, a 100-point grading scale makes this difficult. Consequently, much of our discussion has centered around a potential shift to a 4-point scale in order to more accurately convey student achievements in relation to standards. The main reason for this focus is that it more accurately represents a student’s grade (see “The Case Against the Zero” at http://www.ncpep.org/sail/Case_Against_Zero.pdf for a more detailed explanation of this).
    For whatever reason, your post got me thinking about this all over again, and I think that the combination of those two factors – diploma tracks and a 4 point grading scale (which, coincidentally, all of our 100-point grades turn into, anyway) – might be a phenomenal solution to the issue we’re seeing in Washington State.

  7. drpezz Post author

    I have read that article, and I agree with much of it. Since I weight my grades but still use the 100 point scale, I have not completely shifted grading scales. Mainly, I like the 100 point scale for parents, but am essentially using a standards-based grading system. That may sound convoluted, but I transfer rubric scores into the 100 point scale.


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