A High School Diploma Is No Longer Just About Academics, It’s About Career Readiness

By Andrea Alvarez
Huntsville City School Board Representative District 3

In November 2022, The Alabama State Board of Education passed new graduation requirements that take effect for the class of 2028, which are current 7th graders. Those of us who graduated from Alabama high schools prior to 2013 did so by taking the graduation exit exam which was based on an 8th grade academic proficiency level. “Graduation Rates” were arbitrarily calculated at the time by each Alabama school system.

Most schools calculated graduation rates by how many students passed this exam vice how many students attempted the exam. According to National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2010-2011 school year, Alabama schools had a graduation rate of just slightly over 70% which was about 40th in the nation. In 2018-2019, Alabama skyrocketed to over 90% graduation rates which is 1st in the nation. Some of the growth is due to more adequate and consistent data reporting, but arguably, some of the growth was due to the end of the graduation exam.

Today, “graduation rates” in Alabama are determined by a child entering high school in 9th/10th grade and completing high school with a diploma in 12th grade. If a child were to leave the state of Alabama or enter a home or private school without properly un-enrolling from the school system then the graduation rates of that school system would be negatively impacted due to the student appearing to just drop out. Huntsville City school administration works tirelessly to track down previous enrollees, but some students are never heard from again and some even leave the country. Unfortunately, those students stay in the system of the high school they last attended until their initial projected graduation date.

When looking at Huntsville City Schools graduation rates, it is important to note that unlike when I was in school and graduation rates were a determination of academic success of the school, now graduation rates are more about whether a child who entered high school ended up staying until completion. When I started at Grissom High School in 1999 the freshman class was over 700 students. I graduated with a class of around 450 in 2003. Assuming all those students dropped out, Grissom’s graduation rate would have been 64% if calculated the way it is today.

I’m sure I am not the only one who would assume that the integrity of Alabama graduation rates is at risk without any form of accountability. Thankfully, Alabama began to focus on career readiness in lieu of the graduation exit exam. An Alabama high school diploma has not been arbitrarily inflated by just “allowing everyone to graduate”, it has been enhanced to include students who are ready to dive straight into work post high school.

The new Alabama College and Career Readiness Requirements that will take effect with the class of 2028 include a mixture of academic, trade or military options to ensure a child is “ready” to enter the next phase of their lives. We no longer have a college-bound or drop-out approach, we now have unique options for all children to succeed.

Alabama College and Career Readiness Requirements:

* Earning a benchmark score from any subject area in the ACT college entrance exam; 
* Earning a qualifying score of three or higher on an Advanced Placement exam:
* Earning a qualifying score of four or higher in an International Baccalaureate exam:
* Earning college credit while in high school;
* Earning a silver or gold level on the ACT WorkKeys exam;
* Completing an in-school youth apprenticeship program;
* Earning a career technical industry credential; 
* Being accepted into the military before graduation;
* Attaining career and technical education completer status
* Any additional college and career readiness indicator approved by the State Board of Education.

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