The State Board of Education Wednesday voted 6-1 to approve a revised menu of choices school districts will use to set their requirements for high school graduation.
Districts will have to choose at least one item from the menu of graduation guidelines, described in the board motion as a “floor.” Districts can choose one, some or all of the menu items and add whatever additional graduation requirements they want, such as a certain set of classes in high school.
Students wouldn’t have to meet all the benchmarks on the state menu but could choose from them in addition to meeting local requirements.
Most of the menu items are standardized language arts and math tests such as the ACT, SAT, Accuplacer, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. The menu sets scores students would need to achieve to meet the requirements.
Other items on the menu include passing grades in college classes taken by high school students, district-approved independent study or class projects and industry certificates in various trades. The original list included PARCC tests, but the board voted to remove that option, reasoning that the test only will be given in 9th grade moving forward.
The board’s motion also allows districts to seek waivers from the guidelines.
The graduation guidelines have a long history of stops and starts.
Because the state constitution gives local school boards control over instruction, it’s long been considered unconstitutional for the state to impose any uniform requirements for high school graduation.
A 2008 education reform law tried to work around that by directing the Department of Education and the board to develop graduation guidelines that districts had to “meet or exceed.”
The board didn’t act on a set of guidelines until 2013, when it approved a menu that included measures of not only language arts and math but also science and social studies.
That list drew criticism from many administrators and school leaders, who complained that the menu was unfair to smaller districts that wouldn’t be able to offer as many choices to their students as larger districts.
The department went back to the drawing board with a large task force of educators who developed the revised menu — dropping science and social studies — that was approved by the board Wednesday.
Some business and education reform groups criticized the new menu, arguing it watered down the original guidelines.
The revised menu was presented to the board earlier this year, but some board members weren’t happy with it and delayed action.
But the timetable laid out in that original 2010 law finally forced the board to act. The guidelines are supposed to apply to students who graduate at the end of the 2020-21 school year – students who will enter 8th grade next fall. It’s common practice for districts to inform incoming 8th graders of graduation requirements.
The decision seems to leave no one happy.
Several members of the task force that developed the second menu testified to the board and had qualified support.
Bret Miles of the Northeast Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services said, “The second menu is definitely much improved.” But his endorsement was nuanced. “Determining the graduation requirements is best done at a local level,” he said. “We believe there are still enormous equity issues even in the second menu.”
The guidelines likely will be revised in the future. The board’s motion directs the education department to convene a study group to find more career and technical education options that can be added. The motion also requires creation of a second group of parents, educators and industry representatives to study other possible additions.
And board chair Steve Durham told his colleagues that if any of them come up with menu additions, he’d be happy to add those suggestions to the next board meeting agenda.
The lone board no vote, Debora Scheffel of Parker, criticized the menu’s reliance on standardized tests.
“I think that’s a huge problem,” she said.
Hunt for new commissioner ramps up
The board was briefed on the search for a new education commissioner by Gary Ray, president of the search firm Ray and Associates.
The company is conducting meetings this week to gather educator and public comment on desired characteristics of a new commissioner. Get information about the meetings and take an online survey here.
Ray will brief the board on the survey and the meetings on Sept. 21, and the deadline for applications is Nov. 7.
“We’ve had some inquiries, but people keep asking me what they’re looking for,” Ray said. “The word is out there. I can tell you that.”
The board will receive applicant names in mid-November and conduct interviews in early December.
Robert Hammond retired as education commissioner in June, and Elliott Asp is serving in an interim role.