High school graduation rules could change

Bill would create 3 types of diplomas

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There could be changes coming to high school graduation rules.

The Florida Senate passed a bill that would make it easier for some students to get a diploma and encourage more students to earn job skills in school.

This would change the tougher graduation requirement the Legislature passed in 2010.

The bill would delete some of the courses and tests students need right now to graduate. They would then get a standard diploma, which would get them out of high school but not necessarily into a four-year college.

"I think it's important for students to be able to engage in the conversation around what the future plans are going to be," said Iranetta Wright, principal of Andrew Jackson High School.

The bill passed by the Senate would create three types of diplomas. The first is called a "standard" diploma. It wouldn't require students to take everything like Algebra II, chemistry or physics, and students wouldn't have to pass three end-of-course exams.

Wright and the bill's sponsor believes this may encourage some students who know they don't want to attend a four-year university.

"Some of the courses that they truly struggle in are courses that they otherwise may not have to take if they were on a different diploma track option," Wright said.

For students who want to go to a four-year university, there's a "scholar" diploma. They would have to pass the classes currently required and take at least one advanced class.

Lastly, there's the merit option, which means students pass an industry certification course.

"It's not a watered down or lowered expectation level," said Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who supports the bill and believes it will better support students at every level. "The one size fits all approach is not allowing our children to realize, 'Why is high school experience relative to me?' And unless we transform our thinking and the system itself, we're going to continue with low graduation rates."

If the bill passes and the degree requirements change, the requirements to get into a four-year college are still the same.

So there was some concern that students may have a long road if they pick one path, then decide later on that they want to go to college.

Florida State College at Jacksonville officials worry this new bill as it stands would discourage older students who are trying to get back in the workplace or change careers.

"We don't want to set our students up for failure by putting putting them prematurely in a college credit class," said Judith Bilsky, FSCJ provost.

Bilsky believes schools should have a say in helping determine when a student needs more help and how to best meet that need.

"We really are worried that if we don't have the flexibility to place students appropriately that it may end up actually in poor graduation rates for students, more dropout rates for students," she said.

Reports say about 70 percent of Florida's state college students need remediation in one study. The bill sponsor believes remedial courses trap students and don't help students very well.

Critics worry the alternative, adult education classes, which help people earn their GED or high school diploma if they dropped out, will be even less helpful.

"They may not have appropriate targeted interventions, and it might just be so discouraging to a student who already has a high school diploma who just maybe needs to get a little rust off," Bilsky said.

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