NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Colorado’s Graduation Guidelines Change Next Year. Here’s What You Need To Know.

Jeremy Jenum
Flickr - Creative Commons

Starting January 2017, school districts will adopt changes to their graduation requirements that could provide new avenues for students to complete high school. Districts must choose at least one item from a “menu of options” designed by the Colorado Department of Education, which includes various standardized tests, a “capstone” or portfolio project, or concurrent enrollment for college credit. For each option, schools are given specific English and math benchmarks. If they choose, individual districts are able to establish higher benchmarks for their students. Before the guidelines were approved last fall, Colorado’s only statewide requirement to finish high school was a civics course.

Here are four things to keep in mind about the new guidelines:

  • Capstones are portfolios will offer students new ways to graduate - if their schools make those options available.

A portfolio allows a student to present a collection of work throughout high school, along with a personal statement arguing that the work shows mastery in English and math. A capstone allows a student to create a major within their high school career, collaborating with the school to design a slate of classes that would demonstrate mastery in both subjects. A student interested in performing arts, for example, could achieve math mastery in music theory, or shop classes geared towards set building. English mastery could be shown in playwriting or literature classes.

  • There’s an important distinction being drawn between high school completion and college readiness.

Students who aren’t planning on continuing on to college may no longer need to take the ACT or SAT. Students may be able to use industry certification or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to show that they’re ready to graduate. College-bound kids who are in advanced placement courses or college courses can use those grades to show mastery as well. More detail can be found here.

  • CDE is still working with districts on adapting these options to disabled students, gifted students and English language learners.

Workgroups were created to think of ways to accommodate all three populations. The workgroup for students with disabilities issued a report [.pdf], citing a need for even more flexibility. Districts are encouraged to bolster already-existing individualized education plans to find pathways to graduation for disabled students.

The group focusing on gifted students released one [.pdf] as well. For gifted students, the group recommended similar flexibility to make sure they continue to be challenged throughout high school.

No report is available for the workgroup on English language learners.

  • The menu has some problems.

The options districts may choose from includes ACCUPLACER - a College Board-produced test that has been used to place students in the state’s community colleges. Earlier this year, the Colorado Community College System began phasing out ACCUPLACER in favor of the Community College Placement Test. Similarly, ACT Compass is being phased out by ACT later this year. According to CDE, recommendations for changes to the menu must be presented to the state board of education by late next year. Until then, ACT Compass and ACCUPLACER are acceptable barometers for success, while the CCPT is not.
In November, school districts will have the opportunity to present their new guidelines to the CDE. Changes go into effect January 2017, and will apply to the graduating class of 2021.

Ann Marie Awad's journalistic career has seen her zigzag around the United States, finally landing on Colorado. Before she trekked to this neck of the woods, she was a reporter and Morning Edition host for WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capitol. In a former life, she was a reporter in New York City. Originally, she's from Buffalo, so she'll be the judge of whether or not your chicken wings are up to snuff, thank you very much.