Receiving a high school diploma is a significant right of passage for public school students in the United States. The high school diploma represents the student’s academic accomplishments up to that time. In most cases, students cannot go to college without a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). The lack of a high school diploma places severe limits on the number of jobs that are available to an individual.
However, despite the nearly universal recognition of the importance of obtaining a high school diploma, there is little agreement about what the standard diploma actually means in terms of academic achievement and the accumulation of important skills or knowledge. In order to clarify exactly what students have learned, 33 states have instituted multiple diploma options to high school graduates, including diplomas that indicate honors courses, vocational education, and other distinctions (Johnson, Thurlow, Stout, and Mavis, 63).
Some states award different diplomas for students who are enrolled in special education, including honors diplomas, special education diplomas. (Johnson, Thurlow, Cosio, and Bremer 1). Uncertainty of the meaning of a high school diploma is also complicated by the lack of any standardized measurement of academic achievement in many states. In 2007, only 21 states required students to pass a state examination before graduation; 27 states did not have any type of exit exams at all (Johnson, Thurlow, Stout, and Mavis, 63).
Consequently, while the standard high school diploma signifies that the student has completed at least the minimum requirements of an academic curriculum, the diploma does gives little indication of what the student has actually learned or any degree of proficiency in the subjects that were taken. States that do not use multiple diplomas could eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding their graduation requirements by adopting a system of graduated diplomas.
When properly constructed, graduated diplomas provide a more accurate reflection of the course work that the student has completed as well as the level of proficiency that the student was able to achieve in those courses. This information could then be used by colleges and employers to determine which applicants are most likely to succeed in their chosen endeavors and which graduates may require additional remediation beyond their high school years.
It is true that grades and course work are included in the student’s academic transcript; however, a graduated diploma would convey a greater and more formal recognition of the student’s accomplishments in a way that would not require an employer or university admission’s board to study a detailed transcript and portfolio of student work. Finally, graduated diplomas would encourage those students who are most likely to succeed to push beyond the minimum academic requirements of a standard diploma and to work towards a more challenging academic curriculum for which they would receive appropriate recognition and rewards.
Public schools should adopt graduated diplomas which better reflect actual student achievement. Standard high school diplomas are such poor indicators of an applicant’s potential for success that they mean little to many potential employers beyond a confirmation that the applicant was able to complete high school (Hartwig and Sitlington 11). Even this slight distinction, however, is still important to employers.
Hartwig and Sitlington (12) found that employers who were considering hiring applicants who were enrolled in special education programs prior to their graduation were more likely to consider applicants who received a standard diploma than they were to consider applicants who received a certificate of attendance or an certificate of completion.
These employers were also more likely to consider hiring applicants who had received an occupational diploma, a special diploma for students with special needs which indicated specific occupational training, than they were to hire those who had received certificates of attendance or those who had received a GED. Above all, the employers in this study were most likely to hire applicants who received a high school standard diploma.
The research by Hartwig and Sitlington showed that although employers may claim that they do not place a great deal of faith in high school diplomas, they recognize and respond to different educational distinctions among job applicants. Although not designated as such, these academic distinctions – the certificate of attendance, the occupational diploma, and the standard diploma – functioned as a graduated diploma system, with each category indicating a different degree of educational achievement. These employers indicated that they used this information when making hiring decisions.
Colleges face similar difficulties when trying to predict which high school graduates will be adequately prepared when they arrive at the university. Standard high school diplomas make no distinction between students who perform poorly and students who exceed their schools’ academic expectations. Consequently, although all college freshmen have a high school diploma or a GED, 30 percent of first year students in 2- and 4-year institutions lack the necessary basic skills and are required to take remedial courses in math, writing, and reading (Cohen 22).
Graduated diplomas may not reduce the need for remedial classes for high school graduates; however, graduated diplomas would provide another indication of the type of curriculum that the student studied and the level of success that the student experienced. Colleges could be better prepared to meet the needs of lower-achieving students and to provide greater challenges for students who had already experienced academic success. In addition to providing a way to recognize the accomplishment of high-achieving students, graduated diplomas may also provide a safety net for students who are at risk of dropping out.
The standard diploma, with its set requirements for credits, is an all or nothing proposition. Students who do not meet these requirements have nothing to show for their efforts. A graduated plan would provide an alternative that could eliminate some of these obstacles to graduation so they may obtain enough education to find a job or go to a two-year college (Viadero 12). This obviously helps students. Keeping students in school through an alternative diploma program could also help schools meet the attendance requirements of No Child Left Behind, the federal education law (Shannon and Bylsma).
Care must be taken, however, to ensure that alternative diplomas do not become an alternative to a receiving a diploma. Erickson, Kleinhammer-Tramill, and Thurlow found that alternative exit strategies such as certificates of attendance and other alternatives to diplomas resulted in fewer special education students completing the requirements for a diploma. Conclusion Graduated diplomas reduce the uncertainty about what the student has actually learned and the level of proficiency he or she has achieved.
For high-achieving students, the graduated diploma provides a certification of a higher level curriculum and greater academic accomplishment. Students who have special education requirements or who might otherwise drop out of school benefit from having the opportunity to receive a legitimate diploma that recognizes their efforts. In short, graduated diplomas provide benefits for students, for schools, for colleges, and for employers. States that have not done so should implement graduated diplomas. Works Cited