This is part two of three in our “College and Career Readiness Close-Up” series examining innovative, leading state practices in holding schools accountable for providing pathways for high school students that prepare them for postsecondary education and work.
In Louisiana, the Strength of Diploma index accounts for 25% of a high school’s performance score—and A-F school grade—in the state accountability system. But unlike most states’ college and career readiness (CCR) indicators, the Strength of Diploma index does not treat every way of demonstrating readiness equally to determine a rate of “prepared” graduates. This makes intuitive sense; the preparation a student receives from taking one or two dual enrollment classes is not equivalent to earning a postsecondary credential in high school. Moreover, by considering the quality and rigor of each student’s diploma and valuing high school pathways that are more strongly associated with postsecondary success, Louisiana can use its CCR indicator to incentivize completion of those pathways.
Understanding the Strength of Diploma Index
Louisiana measures Strength of Diploma by assigning 100 points to each student who graduates high school in four years with a standard diploma, which sets the baseline for the index.1Students with significant cognitive disabilities taking the alternate assessment (LEAP Connect) aligned with alternate academic achievement standards can also receive 100 points each if they graduate with a Jump Start diploma within an appropriate timeline, which can be longer than four years. In Louisiana, students can choose the TOPS University or Jump Start TOPS Tech graduation pathway. The former is aligned with typical credit requirements for admission to state colleges and universities, while the latter is more focused on acquisition of at least one Jump Start credential, the state’s term for its list of approved, industry-promulgated, industry-valued credentials in 11 career clusters. A student graduating on-time with either diploma nets 100 points (see Figure 1).
Students receive reduced points (50 to 75 points) if they do not graduate on time, but still earn a diploma in five or six years. However, a five-year graduate can generate more than 100 points if the student demonstrates high levels of readiness in another way, such as by earning a high score on an Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test or by earning a Jump Start credential deemed “advanced” by the state. Finally, students receive the fewest points by completing the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) credential, with or without also earning a Jump Start credential, as students whose highest credential is a high school equivalency program tend to have poorer postsecondary outcomes than diploma holders.
Figure 1. Diploma Pathways Earning 100 Points or Less in the Index
Students receive more than 100 points on the Strength of Diploma index for completing pathways that lead to postsecondary credentials, achieving higher levels of postsecondary preparation, and completing both college-ready and career-ready measures. In this way, Louisiana uses its CCR indicator to incentivize schools to help students go beyond earning a standard high school diploma.
Completing Pathways Leading to Postsecondary Credentials
Louisiana awards the most points to graduates who earn postsecondary credentials while in high school. Specifically, as depicted in Figure 2, students who graduate on-time and earn an associate degree are awarded 160 points, the highest number of points possible, while students who earn an associate degree but graduate in five years still receive 150 points. In this way, the state distinctly signals that it values earning an associate degree more than other readiness measures—which makes sense given that some college is all but required for 80% of good-paying jobs and that students completing an associate degree in high school would be well-positioned to complete a bachelor’s degree as well.
Figure 2. Diploma Pathways with Postsecondary Credentials Earn the Most Points
Texas also uses earning an associate degree as one of the measures in its College, Career, or Military Readiness indicator. However, unlike Louisiana, Texas treats all of its readiness measures the same when calculating school performance: a school’s performance is based on the percentage of students meeting any of the readiness measures, even those that are less rigorous than earning a postsecondary credential in high school.
It’s important to keep in mind that high school students cannot earn an associate degree without being able to access, enroll in, and earn dual credits—and both Louisiana and Texas consider dual credit as a readiness measure in addition to earning an associate degree. States adding dual enrollment and/or acquisition of postsecondary credentials into their CCR indicators should consider whether other policies, such as funding for dual enrollment programs, student eligibility requirements, policies regarding tuition, fees, and transportation costs, and credit transfer policies, also need updating to ensure equitable access to these programs across (and within) high schools to maximize the benefits for students.
Achieving Higher Levels of Postsecondary Preparation
Louisiana’s Strength of Diploma index also values stronger evidence of postsecondary readiness by assigning more points to students who demonstrate higher levels of readiness (see Figure 3). For example, four-year graduates who earn a passing score on an AP or IB exam receive 150 points, compared to only 110 points for a passing grade in an AP or IB course. Similarly, four-year graduates earning “basic” Jump Start credentials net fewer points than those earning “advanced” credentials.
Figure 3. Higher Levels of College and Career Readiness Net More Points
Nevada’s CCR indicators also recognize students’ participation and completion of readiness measures. However, it weighs participation and completion equally when calculating school performance in the accountability system (each is worth 10 points) even though completion clearly represents a higher standard of readiness. Louisiana’s Strength of Diploma index, on the other hand, reflects the rigor of different measures by assigning more index points to higher levels of preparedness.
Completing Both College-ready and Career-ready Measures
Finally, Louisiana students are assigned more points in the Strength of Diploma index if they demonstrate college and career readiness (see Figure 4). For example, four-year graduates who pass an AP, IB, or CLEP exam and earn an “advanced” Jump Start credential receive the maximum 160 points, compared to 150 points for students who complete only one of those two measures. Likewise, on-time graduates with a passing grade in a dual enrollment course who also earn a “basic” Jump Start credential receive 115 points, as opposed to 110 for completing one of the two measures.
Figure 4. Students Earn Extra Points for Showing College and Career Readiness
Most states include a mix of measures in their CCR indicators, including some more associated with college preparation (e.g., AP and IB scores) and some more associated with career preparation (e.g., successfully completing a work-based learning experience) to account for many different, and viable, postsecondary pathways. However, most states’ CCR indicators paint an overly simplified picture of readiness by treating different pathways the same. In other words, they report the rate of graduates who are ready for college or career, instead of the rate of students ready for both. For example, students are considered ready whether they earn benchmark scores on the ACT (a measure designed to capture college readiness) or an industry-recognized credential (a measure designed to capture career readiness), and schools usually get no extra points for students demonstrating both college and career readiness. Louisiana’s Strength of Diploma index, however, incentivizes schools to support students in achieving both college-ready and career-ready experiences by giving schools bonus points in the accountability calculations.
Louisiana’s reliance on an index to measure college and career readiness—particularly its choices to place more value in that index on students (1) completing postsecondary credentials, (2) achieving higher levels of postsecondary preparation, and (3) demonstrating college and career readiness—set the state apart as an innovator. Louisiana uses its accountability system to not only measure how well its students are prepared for college and careers, but to signal and reward high schools for helping their students have high school experiences that are most likely to set them up for success. Other states should follow their lead.
- 1Students with significant cognitive disabilities taking the alternate assessment (LEAP Connect) aligned with alternate academic achievement standards can also receive 100 points each if they graduate with a Jump Start diploma within an appropriate timeline, which can be longer than four years.