In July, the state board of education approved the “nontraditional high school diploma”, providing pathways for students who either dropped out of high school without earning the required number of credits or failed portions of the now-retired Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) to earn the diploma.
The program is offered through the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) in partnership with the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and costs nothing for those enrolled.
ACCS Director Dr. David Walters, in a presentation to the state board of education at their May work session, said over 600,000 adults in Alabama do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, the General Education Diploma (GED). A task force developed the pathways and met with representatives of business and industry to ensure rigor and relevance are ingrained in the program, Walters said.
While the GED is available to students who didn’t earn a diploma, state education officials and board members said they have heard from many people that a GED wasn’t a high enough credential to allow them to pursue their career goals. Dr. Philip Cleveland, serving as interim state superintendent at the meeting, said earning a high school diploma “is life-altering for many families in the state of Alabama”.
State board members expressed concern that these new options, which don’t require a student to attend classes in public high schools, could lessen the value of an Alabama high school diploma, but Cleveland assured board members that was not the case. “You’ll see a huge amount of rigor in this. This isn’t about giving anybody anything,” he said.
State board members also expressed concern that offering this option might encourage students to drop out and come back later, but Walters and Cleveland didn’t believe that would happen.
To be eligible, a student must be at least 17 years old and have earned at least ten credits while in high school.
The first step is to contact the high school the student last attended and obtain an official transcript, letting school officials know the student wants to obtain the non-traditional high school diploma. School officials will then start the credit verification process with the ACCS.
There are two pathways to the diploma: one for students who earned all 24 credits but failed one or more portions of the AHSGE, and one for students who earned at least 10 credits, but not all 24.
Depending upon which pathway a student takes, there are different ways to earn the required credits.
That pathway is individually determined for each student and can include scoring at certain levels on the GED and the ACT WorkKeys, among other exams. Prior work experience and successful passage in a ready-to-work or career pathway course can also earn credits.
This memorandum sent to schools by state superintendent Michael Sentance on September 16 explains the options and what role the public schools play.
When the student completes the requirements, the diploma will be awarded by the local school the student last attended.
Both Georgia and California allow students to earn high school diplomas retroactively, as reported in this PBS Newshour article.
No estimates for how many students might take advantage of these options were given.