A program that offers two types of high school diplomas, similar to one used in the Mesa Unified School District for 30 years, may soon spread statewide.
At a state board of education meeting Oct. 22, most members expressed support for a new requirement that would direct school districts to offer a “regent’s diploma” in addition to traditional diplomas.
The regent’s diploma would require 21 credits and more rigorous courses, including two years of a foreign language and an additional high-level math class.
Supporters say it represents what it takes to gain admission into one of the state’s three public universities, so it sends a clear message to students about the rigorous course they must complete to prepare for college.
Meanwhile, the state would also continue to offer its standard 20-credit diploma.
The regent’s diploma is very similar to the Mesa Unified School District’s “scholastic” diploma, which began in 1985 for students who go the extra mile, said Suzie DePrez, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Mesa offers three choices of diplomas for students: traditional, scholastic and one in between. All require 21 credits, but with different levels of coursework.
The scholastic diploma is designed for students to get all the coursework they need to be successful in college, DePrez said.
“We say to them, ‘These are the requirements to transition to a university without going in with a deficiency,’” she said.
“So they know what they are, and they plan accordingly.”
This summer, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board also approved a tiered diploma system in which the standard diploma requires 22 credits, while the honors diploma requires 24.
The district also offers a third diploma, with fewer elective requirements, at its alternative high school.
If the state board approves the regent’s diploma at its December meeting, it would override each individual district’s diploma programs, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who supports the measure.
But board member Jesse Ary expressed some concern about creating what might be seen as “first-class” and “second-class” diplomas.
And Lisa Graham Keegan, former state schools chief, said Tuesday that while she has no problem with offering an “honors” type of diploma, she does worry if all diplomas don’t give students the necessary requirements to continue on to college.
“You are setting different bars and you set different expectations and, therefore, some kids will never have the opportunity to take challenging coursework that would be required to have a complete choice of what happens after high school,” she said.