New Diploma Options proposed by MDE

New Diploma Options proposed by MDE
New graduation proposal. Photo credit WDAM.

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The following information is from a Mississippi Department of Education press release:

The Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) voted today to invite public comment on a proposal that would give students the opportunity to earn an endorsement with their high school diploma and would ensure that the majority of students with disabilities earn a traditional diploma.

The proposal follows a statewide effort to increase college and career opportunities for all students and a new state law that eliminates the Mississippi Occupational Diploma (MOD) option for students with disabilities starting with freshmen entering high school in the 2017-18 school year.

"The diploma endorsement options will encourage students take advantage of their senior year in high school to earn a credential that will benefit them in college, post-secondary training or the workforce," State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright said.

The proposed diploma options include a traditional diploma for all students and an alternate diploma option for students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. Students will also have the opportunity to earn additional credits to qualify for a traditional diploma with a Career and Technical Education (CTE) endorsement, an academic endorsement or a distinguished academic endorsement. Students can earn more than one endorsement.

"The proposed diploma options will give students more opportunities to demonstrate their strengths and achievements and will clearly communicate that they are well equipped for their next stage in life," Wright said. "These options will provide all students, including students with disabilities, with meaningful opportunities to succeed."

The proposed diploma options would take effect in the 2018-19 school year. Students entering grades 10, 11 and 12 in the 2017-18 school year who are currently in a course of study that leads to the MOD option must get parental permission to remain on the MOD track. Otherwise, their Individualized Education Program (IEP) team would be encouraged to consider a course of study that leads to a traditional diploma.

The traditional diploma will require all students graduating from Mississippi high schools to have the same basic requirements and to earn 24 Carnegie Units. After meeting the traditional diploma requirements, students can take additional CTE coursework to meet the requirements for the CTE endorsement or advanced, college-preparation coursework to earn an academic or distinguished academic endorsement. The CTE and academic endorsements require students to earn 26 Carnegie Units. Students must earn 28 Carnegie Units to qualify for the distinguished academic endorsement.

The alternate diploma is designed for the approximately 1 percent of students who have met the criteria on their IEP for having a Significant Cognitive Disability. This diploma requires students earn 24 credits in an alternate course of study. The alternate diploma is not equivalent to the traditional high school diploma and is not recognized by post-secondary entities that require a high school diploma. However, the alternate diploma certifies that a student with a Significant Cognitive Disability has successfully completed a course of study aligned to academic standards.

Other students with an IEP may exit high school with a traditional diploma, with or without an endorsement, or with a Certificate of Completion. The Certificate of Completion is granted to students who have reached the maximum age of service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which in Mississippi is age 20, and have not been able to meet the requirements for a traditional diploma. The Certificate of Completion is not equivalent to a high school diploma.

"The proposed diploma options will ensure that the vast majority of Mississippi's students are getting the instruction they need to earn a traditional high school diploma," Wright said. "Our students deserve the opportunity to graduate with a diploma that is recognized by employers, post-secondary institutions, the military and colleges and universities."

WDAM spoke with Lamar County Superintendent of Education Tess Smith regarding the changes.

"This proposal is very important," Smith said. "Our entire special education department would have to be retrained. First you want to make sure that you really understand the proposal. We always try to read it thoroughly, and then we check for any issues that are in direct conflict with our students, and our schools."

Smith stressed the importance of ensuring that students are prepared from an early age.

"We do try in middle school to go ahead and have students on a particular track," Smith said. "If they know what particular career field they're interested in, we do everything we can to guide them."