Input gathered on high school diploma options
SCHRIEVER, La. — State Superintendent of Education John White met Wednesday with educational and industry leaders to gather input on a proposal to revamp the Career Diploma option offered in Louisiana high schools.
Speaking at Fletcher Technical Community College in Schriever, White said there are three paths a student can take to receive a high school diploma — Core 4, the college track; Basic Core, a hybrid of the other two; and the Career Diploma, concentrating on career training and designed for students who could not pass the eighth grade LEAP test. The differences between them are in the number of required core courses — English, math, social studies and science — as opposed to the number of electives in a career area of concentration.
St. Mary Parish Superintendent Donald Aguillard said this morning there were 28 graduates in the class of 2013 who earned Career Diploma endorsements in this parish’s public schools. By school, they are Berwick, five; Centerville, seven; Franklin, five; Morgan City, six; Patterson, two; and West St. Mary, three.
Statewide, White said there are 2,400 students pursuing a career endorsement. Of them, 170 graduated this year, he said.
White said the career endorsement is imperfect, largely focusing on basic computer courses and customer service.
“Today’s economy is not kind to people who just have a generic high school diploma,” White said.
The plan calls for the first two years of high school to be traditional academic classes, while the last two years would concentrate on a purely technical path of industry-identified training. The degree program would look different in each region of the state and be based on the needs in that area.
The goal is to graduate students who are ready to be gainfully employed in middle class technical jobs, White said.
Is it needed?
“If you took a hundred 18-year-olds who were certified welders and lined them up in front of us, it would be like an Old West saloon fight (between the companies present). We’d hire them,” said J. Ray Barker, Bollinger human resources director.
Referencing the need in the area, William Simmons Jr., Terrebonne Career and Technical High School principal, said “We’re sitting on a gold mine in this state and we don’t teach our kids to mine gold.”
An obstacle to the goal is accountability requirements, which reward more points to schools who graduate students prepared for college through advanced placement courses and high ACT scores.
Pete Boudreaux, St. Mary supervisor of career, technical and alternative education, who was in attendance, said, “You have to offer those principals some reward for pushing the (career and technical education) classes … until you do that, as a former principal, my job’s on the line so I’m going to give you what’s going to make my (school performance) scores the highest,” Boudreaux told White.
White said ultimately his office will propose changes to the accountability formula by which schools receive performance scores.
“My issue with the endorsements was that it was as if all career education is equal, as if all dual enrollment is equal … I don’t think all career and technical education is equal just like I don’t think all academic education is equal … but I’m with you all the way. If we don’t change accountability, we won’t get anywhere,” White said.
White is conflicted about using the ACT, a standardized test designed to determine college readiness, he said.
On one hand, the state, he said, went to requiring all high school students to take the ACT as part of accountability for three reasons. It tests students who don’t have access to college and never take the test. It also provides a series of three tests beginning in eighth grade, allowing teachers to have data tracking a student’s progress toward college and career readiness. Finally, it is a basic measure that most people understand, White said.
On one hand, the test does have a profound effect on accountability scores when all students are required to take a college preparedness test that they may not have taken four core courses in during high school.
“I also have a concern. I’m still wrestling with this. … if we give up on the ACT, I worry that we send a message to the kids and the families of our state that being prepared academically is somehow opposed to being prepared career-wise. I believe you should be able to get a career diploma and get a high score on your ACT,” White said.
White said the timeframe to gather information on changes to the career diploma extends through October. He will ask the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to change the degree requirements at that time. The 2013-14 school year could be used for “jump start” pilot programs in areas like this region that already have a cooperative program between education and industry. The program then would be applicable for juniors on a career pathway statewide in the 2016-17 school year, White said.
“What we want is for your local school systems, industry and technical colleges to define the pathway to graduation,” White said.