The D.C. State Board of Education on Wednesday night voted unanimously to table a vote on proposed revisions to graduation requirements that would create more flexible routes to a high school diploma, citing the need to give the community more time to respond.
The proposed regulations by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) would make it possible to earn high school credit by passing a District-approved test or participating in a “course equivalent,” such as an internship, community-service project, portfolio or performance that can be tied to the academic standards. Another proposal would create a “state diploma” that would go to students who pass the GED anytime after January 2014.
At the meeting, board member Jack Jacobson (Ward 2) called these “important provisions that will offer opportunities to disenfranchised adults in the District of Columbia.”
But he said that “the proposal before us is imperfect” and that the board should continue working with the public to revise it.
The alternative approach, based on the idea of rewarding knowledge and skills rather than time in a classroom, is gaining traction around the country, and city officials have been researching the approach for at least two years. But the proposed regulations were only recently circulated. They were published in the D.C. Register on Nov. 28 for a 30-day comment period and revised once since then.
Many city education officials have hoped that regulations would be passed in time to implement next school year. The board had considered taking a vote on Wednesday night, the last board meeting of the calendar year, before three new members and a new administration takes office.
OSSE officials said it was an “allowable practice” to vote during the public comment period, but many felt it was a rushed timeline that made them uncomfortable with the process.
“The regulations being considered are wide in scope and impact,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board in a letter to the State Board on Wednesday. “It is unwise and unfair to move forward with this vote until the public has had the appropriate, and mandated, period of time to comment and consider all of the consequences, intended and unintended, that may occur as a result of these regulations.”
One by one, the board members Wednesday night said they support more flexible approaches to awarding high school credit but agreed the regulations need more time to be revised and developed. “I believe there should be as much public comment and input as possible,” said departing member Patrick Mara (Ward 1).
Among concerns raised by board members and others were how to ensure that more flexible paths to high school credit would be uniformly rigorous and transferable between schools. Some charter school leaders are also concerned that the plan would infringe on their autonomy.
“We hold ourselves to a high bar of quality,” said outgoing board member Laura Slover (Ward 3). “I don’t want anything we do to undermine that goal.”
Most of the people who testified Wednesday represented charter schools and organizations that work with adults or teens pursuing a GED and who supported the plan to award them diplomas instead of credentials.
Ryan Monroe, chief academic officer at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter school, said his school serves immigrant adults “who were forced to give up their schooling because of war or poverty.”
He said the students often must start at the elementary school level and work for years to learn English and study to pass the GED, which is a major accomplishment. “They come with cap and gown and children in tow and send their photos home,” he said.
It’s a milestone akin to graduating from high school, but not recognized as such, he said. “It is an unfortunate reality that many employers hold that GED certificate in lesser regard,” he said.
Christina Setlow, OSSE’s director of policy, legislative, and intergovernmental affairs, said given the transition to a new administration, she is not yet sure when the board will take up the regulations again.
Board member Tierra Jolly (Ward 8) said that alternative ways to earn high school credit would do “disproportionate amounts of good” for people she serves in Ward 8, and she hopes to be able to vote for it in the near future.
“There are a lot of areas in the document that we are discussing that we really need to clarify,” she said. “I’m happy to take the time to do that, so that when we do vote on these proposed policy changes, we can vote on a final document that we are proud of.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Ward that Laura Slover represents. The story has been updated.