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Louisiana diploma program spurs questions from local educators

VIDALIA — State education officials are pushing for changes to the high school diploma system that would allow students in Louisiana to focus on working in a specific industry or be fully prepared for college after graduation.

But local school officials worry the plan leaves many questions unanswered and isn’t yet tailored to benefit rural areas like Concordia.

State Superintendent of Education John White finished the first of a series of forums Monday at community and technical colleges across the state stressing the urgency of needed change to the state’s three-tier high school diploma system.

Currently, the state’s three diploma options are the Core 4, the basic and the career diploma.

White will take a proposal before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in October to create one diploma with a technical career preparation track and another with a four-year college preparation track.

The diploma would signal that students are either “credentialed” to work in a specific industry or fully prepared to earn a college degree.

Only 19 percent of Louisiana’s students who have concentrated on a college preparation track in high school earn four-year degrees, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Education.

Of the state’s 175,000 high school students, 2,400 — or 2 percent — pursue the career diploma aimed at making them job-ready after high school.

Concordia Parish Director of Secondary Education Rhonda Wilson said most students in the district qualify for either a basic or Core 4 diploma.

The proposal, Wilson said, sounds great in theory, but still leaves many things unanswered.

“Our greatest task here would be identifying high-growth, high-wage training that we could actually sustain in this area,” Wilson said. “Would those students be required to meet the same academic standards that students going to college would, such as the ACT?

“I think there are still a lot of details we need to work out.”

The Core 4 diploma requires students to complete four years and four core subjects while in high school. The basic diploma is split in two with academic course work and career or technical course work.

The diploma changes White is proposing would require students to take two years of core academics as a freshman and sophomore, with the last two years of high school spent concentrating on a specific technical career area. Earning a high school career diploma would be contingent on students being credentialed in a career field in that student’s region.

The career track would create course packages based on local workforce needs and prepare students to graduate ready to enter directly into those areas.

It would be up to the local educators and the business community to determine what it takes to earn the credentials.

Currently, Wilson said the district partners with the Central Louisiana Technical Community College Ferriday campus to provide medical related courses to students at the high school level.

“This new diploma would open up more options, I would think,” Wilson said.

CLTC Dean Mignonne Ater said she was unfamiliar with the details of the proposal, but looked forward to any further partnership with the school district.

“We currently do have strong partnerships and dual enrollment opportunities, and we’re certainly open to increasing and expanding those,” Ater said.

The proposal, Wilson said, would require more work from the community as well as the school district.

“The bottom line is that we want to help prepare students for the future whether its college or career, but working out that proposal will take much time from everyone involved,” Wilson said. “We would try to work to find out what we could sustain here to offer our kids, but a rural area like ours would be different than other areas.”

The diploma transformation would be a three-year process starting with academic regulations changes this fall and with pilot programs. If approved, the new diplomas would be issued by 2016.