Garner Cleveland Record

State board sets new diploma standards

Soon, high school graduates will have seals on their diplomas showing whether they are ready for work or college.

The new standards, set Thursday by the State Board of Education, follow a state law and Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign promise to boost student interest in post-high school jobs. Students starting their junior year in the fall will be the first to earn the designations.

The board set out three paths for students earning seals on their diplomas: career, community college and four-year university. A McCrory spokeswoman said she supports the board’s decision.

“This decision aligns with the governor’s education agenda to ensure students receive a well-rounded education that prepares them to get a job upon graduation,” press secretary Crystal Feldman said in a statement.

Each seal requires students to have at least a 2.6 unweighted grade point average.

Seals with ribbons will be for students who have met the minimum course requirements for admission to a state university and have taken either chemistry or physics and two years of a foreign language.

The standards for a community college seal match a recent policy adopted by the State Board of Community Colleges – part of an effort to reduce the number of community college students who take remedial classes.

High school graduates who have GPAs of 2.6 or better and have completed Algebra II or integrated math III will be considered ready for college-level courses in community colleges.

The matching high school diploma and community college standards are the product of years of discussions on how to smooth the academic transition from high school, said June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction.

In February, the community college board adopted a policy that will have recent high school graduates with a minimum 2.6 GPA skip diagnostic tests and go straight to college courses. The community college system wanted to rely less on tests to place students in the right courses, said Scott Ralls, president of the system.

Research done for the community college system showed that 20 percent of students who were placed in remedial classes based on their diagnostic test scores would have done fine in regular college classes, Ralls said. The study said high school GPA is the best predictor of success in community college.

The work with the state Department of Public Instruction and the new community college policy are part of a broader strategy to decrease the time students spend repeating high school work and increase graduation rates, Ralls said.

“We as a state are farther ahead than any other state,” he said. “We’re charting new ground as part of our research. We do believe we’re in a better place.”

Students who earn a seal indicating they’re ready for jobs must take four career/technical courses. In addition, they must earn target scores on a national standardized test called WorkKeys, or have another credential recognized by an industry, such a car-repair certificate, Microsoft suite certification or SAS programmer credentials.

The credentials required of high school students seeking the career diploma seal are the same adults would get, Atkinson said. “It’s a good indicator that students are career ready,” she said.

About 52 percent of high school graduates now take enough courses to meet the curriculum standards for a career designation, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.