Graduation requirements may change for Mississippi high schools

Published 1:06 am Monday, July 17, 2017

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi high school students could see new requirements for graduation beginning with the class of 2022.

The state Board of Education has proposed new graduation requirements for freshmen starting in the 2018-19 academic year that would let Mississippi’s high school students earn academic or career and technical endorsements along with their traditional diplomas.

The endorsements are aimed at showing students’ college preparedness or workforce readiness.

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Jean Massey with the state Department of Education told board members Thursday that parents and students often err in thinking a high school diploma by itself demonstrates college readiness. That isn’t necessarily so, she explained.

In 2014, more than 42 percent of students in the state’s community college system and 17 percent attending Mississippi’s public universities required remediation, according to an analysis by The Hechinger Report. And lawmakers have said they are concerned about the $35 million annually spent on helping unprepared graduates get ready for college.

Massey said the idea behind the endorsements is to get parents thinking about the future.

There are now five diploma options in Mississippi: career pathway, traditional pathway, district, occupational and early exit.

The proposed overhaul cuts the graduation pathways down to two. The first is a traditional diploma, requiring 24 credit hours earned in certain subjects. The second is an alternate diploma for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

The proposal also phases out the state’s occupational diploma, once awarded to students with disabilities. The option got the boot after lawmakers learned employers and higher education programs seldom recognized such diplomas.

A comparison of the state’s current standard diploma and the newly proposed traditional diploma shows few changes.

Both require 24 credit hours, but they’re distributed slightly differently. New is the requirement that students take a year-long college and career readiness course. The state also wants to see students take a math or math equivalent course during their senior year.

Students looking to graduate early also would have to earn an academic or distinguished academic endorsement or career and technical endorsement before their exit is approved.

The proposed traditional diploma, however, would require students in up to half of Mississippi’s school districts to take more classes to graduate. The state’s current local district option allows districts to require a minimum of 21 credits for graduation. Massey estimated half of the state’s districts were below the state’s recommended 24 credits. Others have required their students to take more.

Going forward, “any district can go above and beyond, but this (24 credits) would be the base level for all students,” Massey said.

Under the new guidelines, students with disabilities would most likely exit high school under one of two paths. The first would be to earn a traditional diploma. One of the concerns about the state’s occupational diploma was that some students receiving the alternate diploma had learning disabilities, a category that includes dyslexia, which might not have prevented them from earning a traditional diploma in the first place.

Students receiving special education services can also exit high school with a Certificate of Completion, provided they have reached the maximum age of service, which in Mississippi is 20, and have not been able to meet the requirements for a traditional diploma. The certificate is not equivalent to a high school diploma.

Students entering their sophomore, junior or senior year already on track for an occupational diploma can continue in their course of study with parental permission, but incoming freshman must work toward a traditional diploma.

Students with significant cognitive disabilities will be eligible for an alternate diploma.

The proposal now goes to public comment for 30 days.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,