The state Board of Education has proposed new graduation requirements for freshmen starting in the 2018-19 academic year that will provide Mississippi's high school students with the opportunity to earn academic or career and technical endorsements along with their traditional diplomas.
The Clarion-Ledger reports the endorsements are aimed at showing students' college preparedness or workforce readiness.
Jean Massey with the state Department of Education told board members Thursday that often parents and students are mistaken in thinking a high school diploma alone demonstrates college readiness. That's not the case, 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 expressed concern about the $35 million annually spent on helping unprepared graduates get up to speed for college.
She said the idea behind the endorsements is to get parents thinking about the future.
Currently, there are five diploma options in Mississippi: career pathway, traditional pathway, district, occupational and early exit.
The proposed overhaul whittles the state's graduation pathways down to two. The first is a traditional diploma that would require 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 side-by-side 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 different. 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 a number of 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.