Limitations Lurk in High School Graduation Pathways
- By Dian Schaffhauser
While many high
schoolers have myriad routes to graduation, those pathways are not
all equal, and some may steer students into unexpected outcomes that
limit their options early in life.
As a research
project from the Alliance
for Excellent Education found, currently, 29 states
offer varied pathways to high school graduation. Some participate in
experiential learning opportunities such as apprenticeships and
work-based or service learning; others take multiple end-of-course
tests or show their knowledge and competency with performance-based
assessments; some earn advanced degrees in specific areas of interest
or take advanced coursework in multiple content areas; and many earn
a standard high school diploma that fits a minimum set of credit
requirements in core and elective subjects.
As a result of that
level of variety, a new
report from the Alliance has suggested, many states
have ended up creating a "bifurcated system of diploma
requirements, forcing students into decisions that may limit their
choices for life after high school." Oftentimes, students don't
even realize the decisions they're making in high school will have
"such a long-lasting impact."
A report on the
findings pointed out that without putting "more robust measures
of rigor and quality" in place for graduation, "rather than
opening doors to opportunity beyond high school, some pathways may
close the door to postsecondary options."
The Alliance found
that in 12 of the 29 states where multiple graduation pathways were
available, students don't have to choose a pathway. In the other 17
states all students must choose a pathway — either selecting from
multiple types of diplomas or endorsements or picking a graduation
assessment. In four of those 17 states, the only option students get
is in how they'll demonstrate competency in core subject areas. In
six of the 29 states, graduation pathways don't have assessment
The Alliance offered
several recommendations, among them, that state high school
graduation requirements and all graduation pathways should align with
college- and career-ready expectations, such as by establishing a
default set of graduation requirements that align with college and
recommendation was that states adopting multiple pathways work with
institutions of higher education and employers to make sure they
"value those options."
analysis by the Alliance examined how states measure
the effectiveness of career training programs in high schools. The
big takeaway was that while states have increased options for career
readiness in high school, many don't really confirm that the pathways
are successful in preparing students for jobs.
show us that many states are working to make high school more
relevant by offering pathways reflecting the range of options
available to students after graduation," said Deborah Delisle,
president and CEO of the Alliance for Excellent Education, in a
statement. "However, simply giving choices to students isn't
enough — students need guidance to pick a pathway that aligns with
their postsecondary goals. Further, states must ensure all of their
high school pathways are clearly defined, rigorous and accessible to
students from all backgrounds, no matter if students plan to start a
career, join the military or attend college."
The two reports,
for What? How Multiple Graduation Pathways Do — and Do Not —
Signal Readiness for College and Careers" and
High School Students for Careers: State Policies to Promote and
Measure Career Readiness," are openly available
through the Alliance for Education website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.