South Dakota joins many other states in offering a tiered diploma system designed to allow students and schools more freedom to determine the focus of a student’s high school diploma and the required courses for that diploma.
The new graduation requirements were adopted in August 2018. The state has permitted a soft implementation for the 2018-2019 and for the 2019-2020 school years, but all schools will be required to follow the new requirements in the 2020-2021 school year.
The new requirements consist of a tiered diploma system. Everyone must complete the Base High School Diploma requirements to graduate. That means students need to earn 22 credits. The classes they take to earn the Base credits is no longer strictly dictated by the State. Instead, the school districts have more flexibility in determining which courses meet the needs and interests of the students.
For example, under the 2009 graduation requirements, students were required to successfully complete three units of math, Algebra I, II and Geometry. Any other math courses were considered electives.
Under the 2018 graduation requirements, students still need to complete three units of math, but the only specified math requirement for the Base diploma is Algebra I. That means a student can complete a Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and a Consumer Math class to satisfy the new state requirements, whereas before, Pre-Algebra and Consumer Math would not count toward graduation even if the student needed one or the other as a prerequisite to Algebra I.
Advanced diplomas have less flexibility in the type of classes the students take because they are more concentrated for a particular objective. According to the SD State Department of Education website, the Advanced diplomas are:
Advanced Endorsement: indicates a student has pursued coursework consistent with entrance requirements for postsecondary education at a university
Advanced Career Endorsement: indicates a student has career experience in a concentrated area, based on academic and workplace experience and a related credential
Advanced Honors Endorsement: indicates a student has pursued advanced rigorous, academic coursework consistent with SDCL 13-55-31.1 (High school course requirements for Opportunity Scholarship eligibility)
Career endorsement courses may lead to the student obtaining certificates for various careers, and the state lists State-Approved industry recognized credentials on a pdf link doe.sd.gov/gradrequirements/documents/Industry.pdf.
The certificates are listed in clusters, such as Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources for someone interested in obtaining OSHA certification or beef or pork quality assurance certification; Business Management & Administration for a student interested in business marketing or entrepreneurship; or Education & Training for someone interested in becoming a paraprofessional in a school system.
There are 14 career clusters, and certification courses could be offered at the school or through the community and can count as a course towards graduation if approved by the state DOE. Guidelines for replacing science electives with advanced computer science courses are listed on the State DOE posted pdf at this link: doe.sd.gov/gradrequirements/documents/ACS-Approved.pdf.
An application process is in place through the state for districts to pursue replacing some courses with others if they are not already approved by the DOE.
For students on an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, special education departments work with parents and teachers to determine the needs of each student.
IEP teams will make either modifications to an IEP student’s curriculum requirements or accommodations to the process and procedures of teaching regular course curriculum or both.
Modifications are, “Changes made to curriculum expectations in order to meet the needs of the student. Modifications are made when the expectations are beyond the student’s level of ability. Modifications may be minimal or very complex depending on the student performance and must be clearly acknowledged in the IEP. Modifications change the scope and demonstration of knowledge and skills students are expected to demonstrate,” the SD State DOE explains on its website.
When a modification is made in a course, the student must still demonstrate the same level of skill and knowledge as other students not receiving modifications in order to earn credit for the Base Diploma.
The DOE says educators must ask themselves two questions:
1. Did the student take the same course requirements as all students?
2. Did the student learn the same course content standards but utilized accommodations?
A student could have modifications in a Pre-Algebra class that result in the class being completed over a two-year time period taught by a member of the IEP education team. As long as the student is able to demonstrate having met the standards and expectations for Pre-Algebra, he or she will earn credit for the course.
If the students receive modifications in the course, but is unable to demonstrate proficiency or mastery of the standards/course expectations, then the school must indicate the student is graduating with a modified diploma.
For all students, the choice of which diploma earned needs to be considered carefully. Earning a Base diploma may allow the student to take easier math courses or alternatives to science, but a Base diploma will mean a student may have to pay for remedial classes in college or at a university for which they will not earn credit toward their degree, because he or she did not complete the level of courses needed to extend their knowledge in higher education.
The Advanced Diploma and the Advanced Honors Diploma course work offer the least number of choices during a student’s high school educational experience, but ensure the student is academically prepared for career-ready training and certificate programs as well as college-level coursework. The Advanced Diploma follows the 2009 course requirements, whereas the Honors diploma includes a requirement for either honors level courses or extra courses in various disciplines.
For example, a student would need to successfully pass Algebra I and II, Geometry, and an advanced math course, such as Calculus or Trigonometry for the Honors diploma. The Advanced diploma requires Algebra I and II and Geometry, but no other math course.
Parents will want to discuss with their students the choices they make even more carefully, as they could earn a certification to be an electrician or hair dresser or certified nursing assistant upon graduating from high school and be able to go directly into a job after graduation, but that Advanced Career Diploma will not necessarily prepare students for a four-year college institution.
If a student is undecided, he or she may want to plan for the highest diploma option so that all options post-high school are equally accessible upon his or her high school graduation. For more information about how your school is approaching the new graduation requirements, contact your school’s high school principal or counselor.
General and more specific information about the new graduate requirements can be found on the SD State DOE website: doe.sd.gov/gradrequirements/documents.