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New regulations offer students multiple pathways to earn a diploma

The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education tonight (October 11) unanimously approved revisions to the Rhode Island graduation requirements that give students more personalized “ownership” over their high-school diploma.

The revisions to the Secondary School Regulations eliminate the use of standardized assessments as a statewide graduation requirement.

The revised regulations retain the requirement that graduating students demonstrate proficiency through a “performance-based assessment,” such as a senior project, exhibition, or portfolio of work. For the first time the regulations specify that the scoring criteria for these assessments must be “aligned with high-school, level state-adopted content standards and applied learning standards.”

The revised regulations also contain a section on “improving literacy and numeracy” for students performing below grade level; the previous regulation focused only on students reading below grade level.

The revised regulations leave unchanged the requirements for course completion: 20 courses including 4 in English, 4 in mathematics, 3 in science, 3 in social students, and 6 determined locally.

“Our goal throughout the process of developing new, standards-based graduation requirements has been to maintain the value of the diploma while meeting the needs of students through a menu of options on assessments and courses,” said Barbara S. Cottam, Chair of the Board of Education. “I am confident that these new regulations will help students build the skills they need for success while providing colleges and employers with useful information about graduating seniors.”

Under the new regulations, students can earn a Commissioner’s Seal by demonstrating their proficiency in literacy and mathematics on the statewide assessments or on other assessments, such as the SAT. At a later date, the Council will approve a list of assessments and the performance level students must attain to earn the Commissioner’s Seal.

Students can also earn optional Pathway Endorsements, such as a Seal of Biliteracy, by demonstrating their learning in a topic of personal interest (e.g., world languages, science and technology, public service, career-technical education). Following guidance that the R.I. Department of Education will develop, local school districts will establish lists of Pathway Endorsements that their graduates can earn, as well as the criteria for demonstrating learning (e.g., completion of a series of courses, completion of an advanced or experiential learning project, earning industry-recognized credentials).

The revised Diploma System will go into effect for the Class of 2021 (today’s 8th-graders).

“The new graduation requirements that the Council has approved are rigorous enough to make the diploma meaningful yet flexible enough to reflect the needs, interests, knowledge, and skills of each of our graduates,” said Daniel P. McConaghy, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “Our top priority is providing students with the skills they will need for success in the 21st-century economy, and this new diploma system will encourage students to excel in academics and to pursue individual pathways that can lead them to challenging careers.”

“Our new diploma system provides a menu of options for students, recognizing that one size does not fit all,” said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “The diploma belongs to the student, not us. The new Diploma System lets students personalize and own their diploma as it will better reflect their interests and strengths.”

Commissioner Wagner added that RIDE is in the process of developing a new system for school and district accountability, which may include the percentage of graduates earning the Commissioner’s Seal or Pathway Endorsements to measure school and district success.

“Under a new accountability system, we may set goals to encourage schools to increase the percentages of graduates earning these designations,” Wagner said. “We are moving to a system that holds schools and districts accountable for helping more and more students navigate personal pathways through the K-12 system that reflect their strengths, interests, and levels of achievement that prepare them for college and the 21st century workforce.”

The revised regulations replace those that the former Board of Regents adopted five years ago. Those 2011 regulations established the requirement that students had to attain a scoring level of “partially proficient” on state assessments in order to earn a diploma. That requirement was set to go into effect for the Class of 2014, when the General Assembly passed legislation forbidding the use of standardized assessments as a graduation requirement until the Class of 2017 at the earliest.

As under the previous regulations, local communities may establish their own graduation requirements in addition to those established and specified in these new regulations.

Regardless of state or local graduation requirements, all eligible high-school students are expected to participate in statewide standardized assessments.

The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) has worked over the past year in developing these revisions to the Secondary School Regulations (Diploma System). To receive public input during the process, RIDE and the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education held 4 community forums, met with 22 stakeholder groups, and conducted 4 public hearings.