Colorado high schools will have flexibility from new graduation requirements amid the pandemic

Colorado’s high school seniors next year will have more flexibility in meeting the state’s new graduation requirements as a result of the pandemic’s disruptions.

The Colorado State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to allow districts to choose their own way of determining if students are proficient in English and math, instead of using the 11 ways the state had approved.  

Colorado’s State Board of Education years ago approved those 11 ways — including getting a passing grade in a concurrent enrollment course, or a minimum of a 2 on an Advanced Placement course test — for high school students to prove proficiency in English and in math in order to earn a diploma. It was a way of setting a minimum bar of what a diploma means in Colorado, given that local control allows school districts to set their own guidelines for graduating.

The high school Class of 2021 was to be the first required to meet those state requirements.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted many of the ways students were to have demonstrated proficiency. In a presentation to the State Board before the vote, education department staff indicated that school districts estimate only 15% to 20% of next year’s seniors have met the requirements so far. 

Many students were counting on a state assessment, the SAT, given to juniors in the spring. That test, like others, was cancelled as schools shut down to stop the spread of the virus. 

Of 11 options that districts can offer their students to demonstrate their proficiency in English and math, the state said only three are currently available: concurrent enrollment classes, a district capstone project, and another performance assessment developed by the state. Other options are limited, and it’s still unknown if any more will become available in the fall. 

The state, for instance, is planning on administering the SAT this fall. Similar to how it’s done in the spring, the test would be free for students to take that day, but unlike in the spring, the state will not make this fall SAT mandatory.

State Board members agreed Wednesday that districts should have more flexibility. A board motion states, “districts may use local data of their choice for student demonstrations of readiness in math and English.”

Misti Ruthven, the state’s executive director of student pathways, told the board that approximately 120 superintendents or charter school leaders had reached out to the state asking for a delay of the graduation guidelines. 

The state also estimated that without action from the State Board, at least 60 to 70 districts were planning to ask for waivers from the state guidelines.

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