It is that time again. Time for high school students to choose courses for the 2014-2015 school year. And with the changes implemented for this year’s ninth graders, it appears that everybody wants to read about graduation requirements under the Alabama High School Diploma. My April 2013 post about the then-new Alabama High School Diploma, is by far the most popular post on this site, with folks reading it every day. More details have been clarified, so here is the latest update.
Here we will focus on Coursework and Pathways, the two main concepts you should grasp when thinking of graduation requirements.
The guiding principle for the Alabama High School Diploma (referred to only as the “Diploma” for the rest of this post) is the idea that students now have multiple pathways to a single diploma. All paths lead to one Diploma awarded by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).
Coursework can fall along one path or the other, and coursework along one path will no longer necessarily limit a student to a certain type of diploma as it had previously (particularly for students with disabilities). This makes the student’s transcript (the list of all high school coursework taken along with the grade earned in the course), rather than the type of diploma awarded, the document that will matter most for post-high school choices.
Local districts will still be allowed to add their own endorsements, such as “advanced academic”or “magna cum laude”, to diplomas awarded in their districts.
Why Did the Requirements Change?
A question-and-answer document on the ALSDE web site states “The purpose for the change 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.”
In essence, the re-worked coursework requirements allow students to earn graduation credit for many equivalent and substitute courses, which can include academy and career technical coursework.
Sounds great. And it likely will be. But there are a few points to bring to your attention.
Coursework Requirements and to Whom They Apply
Technically, any student entering ninth grade during the 2010-2011 school year or later will all earn the same Alabama High School Diploma (remembering that local districts can add their own endorsements). But the coursework required for graduation changed for students who became ninth graders in the 2013-2014 school year.
Actual names of courses may vary, so the details of required coursework are best obtained from your local school district.
The framework looks like this:
All Pathways Lead to the Same Diploma
Previously, students were on only one of three paths:
- the General Education path, also known as First Choice, which led to the Alabama Regular Diploma,
- the Essentials/Life Skills path, which led to the Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD), or
- the Alternate Academic Standards (AAS) path, which led to a Certificate of Attendance.
The latter two paths were reserved for students with disabilities. The AAS path remains reserved for students who meet the criteria for the Alabama Alternate Assessment, which can be generally stated to include students with severe cognitive disabilities.
Typically, students had to choose a path and stay on that path through high school. That isn’t the case any longer. Now, students can choose from coursework on any path.
The big difference is that, regardless of the pathway from which the coursework came, at the end of the coursework, all students receive the same Alabama diploma.
Essentials/Life Skills Pathway
Essentials/Life Skills courses were previously known as AOD courses and were generally reserved for students with special needs. In my opinion, the biggest change in the way the diploma is awarded is that this coursework is now open to all students, regardless of whether the student has a disability.
This also means that students who previously were restricted to coursework on the AOD pathway now have the opportunity to take General Education coursework and earn an Alabama diploma.
However, if your child intends to take coursework on this pathway, you must ensure that the coursework will not limit your child’s post-high school opportunities. A presentation from the ALSDE from April 2014 states the following about Essentials/Life Skills coursework:
- Not appropriate for students who are planning to attend a four-year college.
- Not accepted by four-year colleges or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
- Students taking these courses may be eligible to attend a community college if they meet the institution’s admissions requirements and have the required ACT score.
- It is important for each student to pursue the course work that is appropriate for his or her desired post school outcome.
- Schools must work very closely with students and parents to ensure there is no confusion about the limitations of certain course work and/or pathways.
In addition, if your child takes four core Essentials/Life Skills courses in high school, there are additional work requirements, as delineated in this ALSDE presentation from April 2014:
IMPORTANT! Students with Special Needs!
If your child is receiving special education services and you anticipate or expect your child to need those services through age 21, please be certain that your expectations are written into your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). If your child receives a regular diploma, all eligibility for further special education services ends. PLEASE read this from the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) for more information.
An Infographic to Share
For those of us who grew up on the 4 x 4-curriculum, the coursework and pathway parameters might be a little tough to grasp. Please share this with your friends who have students enrolled in or entering high school in the next year or two.