Virginia explores plan to end advanced diplomas: 'Equitably serving the needs…of all of Virginia learners'

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The Virginia Department of Education is taking steps to end advanced diplomas in the name of equity.

Leslie Sale, director of the Virginia Education Department’s office of policy, on Tuesday announced an exploratory effort to review Virginia’s diploma and graduation requirements in a live-streamed meeting with the department’s Special Committee to Review the Standards of Accreditation.

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“This is about … how and where graduation requirements can operate as a lever for equity,” Sale said around the 1:26:26 mark during the presentation. “So, first, we’re going to start with…the possibility of consolidating the standard and advanced studies diploma.”

She continued: “Hopefully, this discussion will allow us to think through how we maintain a rigorous academic foundation in a way that’s really equitably serving the needs and aspirations of all of Virginia learners.”

Sale added that the discussion is aligned with recommendations from the African American Superintendents Advisory Council, a Virginia-based advisory committee that represents African American school leaders, teachers, parents and advocates.

Recommendations from the council released in March to advance student equity include a revision of Virginia’s “Standards of Accreditation to address opportunity gaps reflected in available course options and to provide equal emphasis on workforce readiness in accrediting schools,” according to a press release.

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“These recommendations include developing measurable plans to close the persistence of achievement gaps, close opportunity gaps that disproportionately impact Black students and other students of color, diversify Virginia’s educator force, and support professional development for administrators and educators focused on culturally inclusive and responsive competencies and equity-centered practices that disrupt intentional and unintentional racism in education,” Newport News Public Schools chief of staff Rashard Wright – who serves as the chair of the advisory council – said in a March statement.

In 2011, the Virginia Department of Education ended the distribution of three different diplomas, bringing the number available to students from six to three, which is the state’s current structure. Educational disparities between minority and White students, however, remain an issue.

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The majority of advanced-diploma earners in 2019 were Asian (79%) and White (63%), according to Sale’s presentation. Among minority students, 44% of Hispanic learners, 40% of Black students and 35% of “economically disadvantaged” students received advanced degrees.

The consolidated diploma initiative, Sale said, would allow students to complete general course requirements in the first two years of their high school studies before moving into more focused studies to help them advance their career paths.

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The Virginia Department of Education told Fox News in a statement that “the Board of Education is reviewing the current diploma options available to Virginia students but at this time there is not a formal proposal before the board.”

Sale also said during Tuesday’s meeting that the diploma consolidation effort would include plans to implement the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative (VMPI), which aims to redefine “mathematics pathways” for Virginia K-12 students “to address the knowledge, skills, experiences and attributes that students must attain to be successful in college and/or the workforce and to be ‘life ready.'”

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A Virginia-based organization called Parents Against Critical Theory condemned the plan in a Wednesday statement. 

“The destruction is never-ending. If parents were upset about the changes in Virginia’s math program, they will be apoplectic after watching this [meeting] that just ended,” the group said in reference to Tuesday’s special committee meeting. “Why are they doing this? EQUITY, ALL IN THE NAME OF EQUITY. Parents, get engaged, we have got to save our kids’ education.”

Sale concluded her presentation by noting “trends in other states” show that diploma consolidation is “viable,” adding that 32 other state educational agencies have one “standard diploma.”

Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.

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