Bryan County seniors are now being assured they will graduate "high school, college and work ready," according to a new set of graduation requirements which passed unanimously by the State Board of Education on Thursday.
The Graduation Rule will eliminate "tiered" diplomas across the state. This means all students will graduate with the same expectations, starting with next year’s first-time freshmen.
Currently there are four tiers, each with different credit requirements: College Preparatory and College Preparatory with Distinction, Technology/Career and Technology/Career with Distinction. The new rule will have a common set of requirements for all students.
"We are no longer setting high expectations for just some students," said State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox in a GaDOE press release. "As a state, we are saying that ALL students can learn at a high level."
Bryan County school leaders seemed to agree with that sentiment.
"I always think raising standards are something we should be looking to do, both locally and on the state level," said Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer.
The new rule requires a "strong core" of Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Science classes. Cox said this will allow students to use their electives in order to personalize their education.
Under these new requirements, all students will need 23 credits to receive a diploma, including: four Math credits, four English credits, four Science credits, and three Social Studies credits; one Heath/Physical Education credit; three credits in Foreign Language and/or Fine Arts and/or Career/Technical/Agricultural Education; and four electives. The requirements noted students planning to attend a Georgia college or university must take at least two years of the same foreign language to meet admission requirements.
"It may be cleaner, and I know at the state level they’re saying they’re kicking up expectations, especially for Math and Science," said John Oliver, Bryan County Schools associate superintendent. But Oliver knows there are concerns.
"What about our children who are struggling as it is? Are they going to struggle sooner and drop out? Instead of enhancing everybody’s graduation rate, is it going to reflect the other way?" he wondered.
While he says all those concerns are completely valid, his hope for Bryan County students is that they’ll end up being better prepared. He also said there will be a continuous stream of support for any students that might need it.
"Parents want to know, with my special needs children, are we expecting them to complete four years of mathematics? And basically, the answer is yes," Oliver said.
But the state is already looking at a math support class, which would be taken as a supplement during the same term as the math.
"Its purpose will be to support the student’s regular math class," he explained.
The new graduation policy will also parallel the beginning of the new math curriculum, Oliver said.
"It might not be ironic they came along at the same time. It might be a good thing they came at the same time," he said. "In the middle grades, we now have the new (math) curriculum in place already. So it’s honestly not a bad thing for these two things to have run parallel."
While Oliver said the new policy might appear to be deemphasizing the career technical programs of the school system, Bryan County plans to continue promoting those types of electives.
"We’re going to encourage all of our kids to take electives in the career technical areas as well," he said.
Oliver said he knows these changes will kick up requirements and he thinks it’s going to be an interesting ride.
"Our kids are hopefully better prepared as upcoming ninth graders than they ever have been before, to take on something with a little more rigor," he said.
The Graduation Rule was developed by a committee made up of a variety of school district representatives, the GaDOE, the University System of Georgia, the Department of Adult and Technical Education and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, among others. To find out more, visit http://public.doe.k12.ga.us/index.aspx.