More Than One Path Leads to High School Graduation

March 29, 2018

High school graduation requirements are constantly in flux, and the latest approach gaining traction in states is what I call “Carnegie Plus” — in which students are required to meet Carnegie unit requirements, plus one or more measures of college and career readiness. Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Virginia are adopting this approach.

Why are states heading in this direction? One rationale comes from the Indiana State Board of Education, which approved new requirements for the Class of 2023 for these reasons:

  • To provide personalized pathways to graduation.
  • To give schools and districts flexibility.
  • To make the high school experience relevant to students.
  • To give students something of value in their next step after high school graduation.
  • To ensure diploma requirements are workforce-aligned.
  • To ensure rigor.

Under these Carnegie Plus approaches across states, students must supplement course requirements with one or more of the following:

  • A benchmark score on national exams.
  • Out-of-classroom experience (service, work-based or project-based learning).
  • Portfolio of work.
  • Attainment of locally determined measures of noncognitive skills critical to postsecondary and workplace success.

Oregon, which has had a Carnegie Plus approach in place since the Class of 2014, might be considered a pioneer in this movement. In addition to course requirements, all students must demonstrate three essential skills:

  • Read and comprehend a variety of text.
  • Write clearly and accurately.
  • Apply mathematics in a variety of settings.

And they may demonstrate these skills through:

  • Oregon’s 11th grade statewide assessment (Smarter Balanced).
  • Other standardized assessments (SAT/PSAT, ACT, ACT Aspire, various Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate exams, Accuplacer, etc.).
  • Work samples.

Indiana’s model, approved last December for the Class of 2023, makes clear that this is a departure from traditional graduation requirements. Students will be required to satisfy three graduation pathway requirements:

  • Complete Carnegie units.
  • Demonstrate employability skills through a project-based, service-based or work-based learning experience.
  • Demonstrate postsecondary-ready competencies through an honors diploma, ACT/SAT, ASVAB, industry-recognized credential or apprenticeship, among other options.

Meanwhile, effective with the Class of 2018, Texas high school graduates need to supplement Carnegie units and end-of-course exam scores with various soft skills. Students must demonstrate proficiency in clear verbal communication and effective nonverbal behaviors, listening, critical thinking and problem-solving, among other skills.

Time will tell what effect Carnegie Plus approaches have on making high school more relevant, and it will be an exciting experiment to watch.

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