Schools want out of new diploma program

Don’t want students to avoid high school courses

After eight months of debate, a bill that offers public high school students an alternative to a traditional diploma won final legislative approval, but St. Charles Parish Public School officials are putting the brakes on this new law.

The “career diploma,” which was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, would allow students to graduate without taking  a full college-prep curriculum.

Advocates of the new diploma say it will keep struggling students in school and will prepare them for jobs, technical training, or community college. Critics say the curriculum won’t be strong enough to accomplish such goals and that it shortchanges students in the long run, given the projections that a large number of future jobs will require a college degree.

Count St. Charles Parish Public Schools among the critics – for now.

In a special meeting called last week, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considered policies for Louisiana’s career diploma option, also allowing opposing school districts to file a waiver against adoption of the legislation – St. Charles was included among the 35 waivers submitted.

“The district submitted a waiver request because all of the details related to career diplomas have not yet been developed by the state’s department of education,” said Rachel Allemand, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “Although the department responded promptly to the enacted legislation, there has not been enough time to fully develop the program.”

For example, Allemand says that course names are included in the career diploma description, but the content of many courses has not yet been identified.

“It is also unclear as to whether students will be able to exit the career diploma option if they decide at a later date that they would like to go to college,” added Allemand.

As of now, students earning a career diploma are not eligible for TOPS – a major source of funding for post secondary education.

“The district believes that it is important to plan this program carefully, as the future of students is at stake,” Allemand said. “The new school year will be used as a planning year for implementation of the career diploma.
“It is important that students choose this route because it aligns with their long-term goals rather than a way to avoid traditional high school courses.”

Currently, the district offers two alternative programs for students  – the performance-based diploma and the pre-GED/skills option program.

“Through the performance-based diploma students engage in small group instruction, utilize computerized learning, complete six credits in a career major, receive career counseling and pass the required components of the graduation exit exam to receive a high school diploma,”  Allemand said. “This program is different from the regular education program because students work through the required academic curriculum at their own pace rather than attending classes for a specific number of days.”

The pre-GED/skills program serves older students who did not pass the eighth grade LEAP test or have few high school credits.

“Students in this program may prepare to take the GED test or earn a skills certificate by developing work skills. These students also receive career counseling,” Allemand added.

Allemand points out that the district’s greatest concern with a career diploma option is to be sure that both parents and students understand the implications of this choice.

“The involvement of parents and students in planning for high school and beyond will be more important than ever,” she said. “Since students may only enter the career diploma program in ninth grade, some students may choose this route before being fully aware of their career goals.”

However, Allemand does see some potential within the  program.

“The career diploma has the ability to be a viable option for students who plan to enter the workforce immediately after high school or pursue coursework at a technical college,” Allemand said. “It appears that most of the courses at the junior and senior levels will be more work oriented rather than higher academic levels.

“This may help students to be better prepared for immediate entry into the workforce or technical college.”

The career diploma law indicated that districts could apply for waivers for cause.

“The Louisiana Department of Education and BESE believes that a lack of adequate time to develop a quality career diploma program was an acceptable cause to request the waiver.”


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