UPDATE: May 11, 2014 - Multiple Pathways Lead to One Alabama Diploma

The only thing you can really count on is change, right?  Well, Alabama’s high school diploma requirements are changing again.  If you are the parent or family member of a current high schooler, grades 9 through 12, this change does not apply to your current high schooler. However, for next year’s entering 9th graders (this year’s 8th graders), the path to a diploma will look a bit different. For these students, there will be one “exit document”: the Alabama High School Diploma (AHSD…a new acronym…yay). It was adopted at the January State Board of Education meeting.

Yes,the First Choice diploma was hailed just years ago as a way to improve the quality of education our children are receiving. [Here’s what the ALSDE said about First Choice when it was first adopted. Here are more details if you really want to know more about the current diploma options under First Choice.] In fact, the ninth graders of 2009-2010, who are seniors this school year, are the first group to receive First Choice diplomas.  But change is inevitable, and while the new diploma requirements really aren’t that different from previous requirement, there are some new additions and adjustments that deserve mentioning here. The image below is taken from the memo announcing the AHSD’s adoption to superintendents.

The stated purpose for adopting the AHSD is “to allow more flexibility for students in pursuing their interests. There are many differences in the courses students may take with this diploma; everyone will not take the same courses just because there is one diploma.” [Here’s the source document. Look at Q4]. It is well known that college admission folks look at courses on the high school transcript rather than what type of diploma a student receives, so there is no need to have all these different diplomas, e.g., Advanced Academic, Academic, etc., because colleges don’t pay attention to the diploma designation anyway.

Districts will be allowed to add district-specific endorsements to the AHSD. Mobile County and Madison City have recently made changes to their diplomas, and added endorsements. You need to know what your district offers in the way of endorsements to the diploma to determine if those endorsements will be of benefit to your child and if so, what courses your child must take to earn that endorsement.

NOTE: Currently, all ninth graders are required to have a four-year plan developed during their ninth grade year. That means as of right now, the four-year plan is a requirement. If your child is in high school and does not have that four-year plan, you need to ask a trusted teacher or administrator when that plan is going to be developed and keep pushing and working with your child’s high school until it is developed and in writing.

Quick Comparison of Old (Pre-First Choice), Current (First Choice), and New (AHSD) Diploma Options from ALSDE

NOTE: There are specific math and foreign language requirements for the First Choice/Advanced Academic diploma option, but students can opt out of the Advanced Academic option with written permission of their parent or guardian.

Diploma Requirements for Children with Special Needs

If your child has a learning disability or is otherwise receiving special education services, you need to pay close attention to the courses your child is taking. The buzzword being used is “pathways”, what we might have referred to as “tracks” in previous years.  Pathways for children with special needs are basically the series of courses the child takes through high school. For next year’s 10th, and 11th grade students, who are currently pursuing an Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD), the school district can choose to issue a regular diploma to students who complete course credit for the AOD.  It is very important for you to understand which courses your high schooler with special needs is taking to ensure that your child is prepared for whatever college or career track that you expect your child to accomplish. The image below is from a webinar presentation given by Bice to superintendents last December and shows the possible alternate classes that fit into the AHSD parameters.

A Document to Answer All Your Questions about the AHSD

The ALSDE prepared a Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ) document with 64 questions and 64 answers [UPDATE: Here’s the January 2014 revised version] about the AHSD and related coursework. Much of the document is technical, so I’ll hit the highlights here:

  • A Career Preparedness Course is now required, taking the place of the Computer Applications course that is currently being offered. Each school district will be able to determine how it chooses to deliver Career Preparedness.
  • The One Online Course requirement is still a part of the AHSD.
  • Students now must have a total of 3 credits total from these three subject areas:  Career Technical Education, Foreign Language and Arts. Two of these three should are recommended to be in the same area and be in sequence.
  • Art is now optional.  Question 14 in the FAQs addresses the rationale.

Seems like we change our minds every few years about what students need to know and be able to do in order to earn a high school diploma. That’s probably not a bad thing, given how quickly our world is changing. The emphasis these days is on “college and career readiness” and the AHSD appears to reflect that philosophy. Even the GED test, which is an alternative for students who do not graduate from high school, is getting a re-do, making it harder (and more expensive) to take, beginning in 2014.

It’s All Part of the Bigger Plan – Plan 2020

Dr. Bice continues to highlight the ALSDE’s work with Alabama’s Workforce Development Councils to help better coordinate K-12 educational efforts with what employers need. He speaks optimistically of a Pre-K through 20 system of education, well-aligned and coordinated to support success as students wind through the educational system. The AHSD is designed to be a part of both of those efforts.

So many plates in the air. Lots and lots and lots of changes since Bice has become superintendent. The AHSD is another of those changes. If you are interested in Alabama’s K-12 educational future and are not yet acquainted with Plan 2020, you need to get acquainted. Plan 2020 is the current strategic plan for Alabama’s K-12 education system. Understanding it is key to keeping up and following along with all of the changes that Bice and the State Board of Education continue to make. Check out this video or click the link provided for more information on Plan 2020.