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Proposed High School Graduation Requirement Changes Cause Concern in RCAS South Dakota Department of Education
June 26, 2018

Proposed High School Graduation Requirement Changes Cause Concern in RCAS

New administrative rules for high school graduation requirements will be decided by the South Dakota Board of Education on July 16, reports the Rapid City Journal.  But school officials in Rapid City worry that the fast decision-time will not allow for thorough investigation of new policies before voting.

The current requirements for graduation in South Dakota are over a decade old, so lawmakers assert that the state and its students are due for a change. The proposed plan would increase flexibility for students pursuing college and careers post high school by granting every student a “base diploma” based on their general credit hours, as well as establishing three new “endorsements” which would emphasize career-readiness, college-readiness, and scholarship-readiness.

School administrators have requested more flexibility in defining what counts towards the current requirements, such as math, English, and science courses. State Secretary of Education Don Kirkegaard does want to allow more flexibility for schools, parents, and students, especially through experience-based learning, such as internships and apprenticeships.

Currently, 67 percent of South Dakota graduates go on to college, but only 27 percent actually earn a bachelor’s degree. But South Dakota’s unemployment rate remains low, meaning that South Dakotans are working – many of them just do so without a bachelor’s degree. Secretary Kirkegaard, however, insists that the state is not minimizing the role of university or college educations, but rather demonstrating that graduates have a wide variety of options.

School officials with the Rapid City Area Schools (RCAS) are concerned that the new “base diploma” will not properly prepare students for higher education. They fear that choosing an endorsement path early on could limit students who may later apply to another post-secondary program or school.

Currently, South Dakota high school students need 22 units, or classes, for graduation. This would remain the same for the base diploma under the new proposal, with the credits being broken down the same as well; 4 units in English, 3 in Math, 3 in Science, 3 in Social Studies, 1 in Fine Arts, 1 in Approved Career/Technical Education (CTE) or World Language or Capstone, and .5 units each in Physical Education, Health, and Personal Finance or Economics. Students also need 5.5 units of electives.

Under the new plan, high schooler students would no longer be required to take Geometry, Algebra II, World History, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, or a Language Arts elective. Literature and Writing credits required would also be reduced. This reduction in requirements would allow districts to create and count alternative courses toward graduation requirements that could prepare students for work in South Dakota industries. Board of Standards member Jacquelyn Sly, also a retired Rapid City teacher and former legislator, discussed how some students find it difficult to meet math and science requirements traditionally, and this change could help show them that further education is still an option.

Students pursuing the “advanced” endorsement would be required to take Geometry and Algebra II, as well as 1.5 units of writing, as well as an advanced math class. The “advanced career” endorsement would require up to 2 units of CTE coursework. RCAS officials are concerned, however, that many students will choose not to pursue and endorsement and opt instead for the minimum number of classes required. State officials counter that school boards and administrators would be able to mandate a more rigorous set of requirements at the local level if they choose.

Both state and local officials agree that much of the guidance for students about these new requirements would fall on school boards and counselors. Secretary Kirkegaard believes that a blended approach to the endorsement program would be ideal. Students can explore career endorsements but wouldn’t necessarily pursue any career immediately.

This proposal will be open to public commentary online until July 12th, and the board will hear public commentary in person in Pierre on July 16th. If approved, the new requirements would be implemented this fall, with the first graduating class with endorsement diplomas being the class of 2020.

Learn more about education in the Black Hills at the Black Hills Knowledge Network Education and Training issue hub.

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