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Paper Thin? Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal


 Paper Thin?
Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal


Monica Almond, PhD, Senior Associate of Policy Development and Government Relations, Alliance for Excellent Education
Jeanne Fauci, Executive Director, Center for Powerful Public Schools
Patrick McAlister, Director of Policy, Indiana Department of Education
Valerie Wilson, PhD, Director of Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, Economic Policy Institute
Gov. Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

As the nation’s high school graduation rate continues to rise, questions around the level of preparedness that students attain to enter and succeed in postsecondary education persist. Ensuring students graduate with course work that aligns with college and career expectations is essential to ensure that more students graduate prepared to tackle the rigor that postsecondary learning demands.

The Alliance for Excellent Education has explored rising high school graduation rates and low levels of postsecondary readiness among traditionally underserved students in its report, Paper Thin? Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal. The report, released on July 27, analyzes the degree to which traditionally underserved students graduate from high school having earned a college- and career-ready diploma in comparison with their peers for the Class of 2014. The analysis reveals that while many states offer students multiple pathways to a diploma, not all pathways align with college- and career-ready expectations.

During this webinar, panelists

  • discussed key findings from the newly released report;
  • highlighted state and local policies that support a college- and career-ready agenda for all students;
  • discussed the economic implications for traditionally underserved students;
  • discussed how Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plans can reflect a college- and career-ready accountability measure; and
  • provided recommendations that states and local school districts can take to ensure more students are graduating from high school ready for college and a career.

Panelists also addressed questions from the online audience.

Support for this webinar is provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Additional Materials:


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[Music plays]

Bob Wise:    Good afternoon. I’m Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. Welcome and thank you for joining us for today’s webinar and report release. The United States achieved its highest graduation rate on record with 83.2 percent of the class of 2015 graduating from high school within four years. This is laudable considering 20 years ago 3 out of every 10 students failed to graduate on time.

For more than a decade the alliance has been at the forefront of advocating to ensure that all students, but particularly students from low income families and students of color, graduate on time with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in first year credit-bearing college courses.

We have partnered with organizations such as America’s Promise Alliance, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and Civic Enterprises to raise awareness of low graduation rate high schools, also known as dropout factories. These are high schools graduating less than 60 percent of their students in four years.

The good news is the number of dropout factories has decreased considerably. Between 2008 and 2012 the nation went from more than 1800 dropout factories to roughly 1000. The challenging news is that even with the increase in graduation rates and the decrease in dropout rates significant graduation gaps persist between traditionally underserved students and their more affluent and white peers.

Moreover, we are learning that a high school diploma is not living up to the expectations of college faculty and employers. With the overwhelming majority of those surveyed recently saying that students arrive with gaps in preparation for both college and work. Furthermore, this was borne out by a study last year by the Georgetown Center on Education in the workforce that showed that of the 11.6 million jobs created since the end of the recession in 2010, 99 percent of those jobs went to persons with a high school diploma and more.

Less than one percent went to those with a high school diploma or less. Clearly a high school diploma is no longer anywhere the finish line. It is, by necessity, a starting point and one that requires a quality high school diploma in order to go to the next step.

In the report that we’re releasing today titled, Paper Thin? Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal. We’re departing from past practice. The focusing solely on high school graduation rates as a measure of success for high school students. The new reports explores the degree to which traditionally underserved students graduate from high school having earned a college- and career-ready diploma in comparison with their peers.

This report covers the 23 states that offered multiple pathways to a diploma for the class of 2014. Using Paper Thin as a framework. This webinar will discuss key findings from the report including the implications for traditionally underserved student, provide specific examples of how a state and district are raising graduation expectations for all students, and offer insight into the economic implications of college and career preparedness or the lack thereof.

Now let’s turn to our panelists. Today we are joined by Dr. Monica Almond, senior associate of policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education and the lead author of this report. Joining us via phone from Indiana is Patrick McAlister at the Indiana Department of Education where he is tasked with managing the state’s ESSA planning process.

Also joining via phone from Los Angeles is Jeanne Fauci, executive director of the Center for Powerful Public Schools, an organization providing direct services to students and districts in the greater Los Angeles area and across California with a focus on improving the lowest performing schools. And finally, we are joined in studio by Dr. Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute.

Later in the webinar we will address questions submitted by you, our live audience. Please join the conversation by sending us your questions throughout the webinar using the box below this video window or on Twitter using #unequaldiplomas. Finally, if you miss any of the webinar or want to share it with colleagues, an archived video with all accompanying PowerPoints will be available at So, now Dr. Almond, why don’t we begin by you walking us through this report. And thank you very much for all the work that you’ve done to pull this together. But, please, take us through it and then we’ll begin the discussion.

Dr. Monica Almond:    Sounds good. Thanks so much, Bob. It’s great to be here today to talk about this report. And like Governor Wise said earlier in his remarks, the high school diploma’s not living up to expectations. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone given there have been multiple measures and assessments and national measures of readiness that have shown that the diploma is not what most people think it should be.

So, if you take a look at the first slide in the presentation today, you’ll see this kind of juxtaposition of these different indicators. The first bar shows the adjusted cohort graduation rate for the class of 2015, which shows 83.2 percent of students from that class graduated with a high school diploma.

However, you’ll see that the vast majority of these graduates failed to meet nationally recognized measures of college and career readiness. So, for the same class, for the class of 2015, only 37 percent of graduates performed at or above the proficient level in reading on the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They performed much lower in math at 25 percent.

You’ll also see that 28 percent and 42 percent of students met college readiness benchmarks on the ACT and the SAT respectively. And you’ll see here as well that 42 percent of students met another indicator of performance, and 47 percent of the class of 2013 graduated with a GPA of a B or better in core academic courses.

So, the 42 percent of students are students who do transcript analysis are graduated with a college and career ready diploma, according to transcript data. So, with all of these different indicators it’s great to see that the graduation rate is improving. But, until there’s alignment across all of these other indicators, our students are not truly ready for what comes next. And the impact is even greater for traditionally underserved students whose measures of readiness not on this chart or this bar scale are much lower.

So, given this misalignment, the Alliance was interested in exploring further to see what information we can glean about this apparent lack of college and career readiness and its impact on traditionally underserved students. So, the question is, are students truly graduating with a high school diploma that will help them to be college and career ready? So, that’s the question at hand.

And the Alliance really credits past research that is done by both Achieve and the Education Commission of the states that reveal the multiple pathways to a diploma in states and really started this conversation around the degree to which students are graduating with a college- and career-ready diploma, which I’ll refer to as a CCR diploma, so that I don’t get tongue-tied for the rest of the presentation.

So, this work has been foundational and informative as we’ve conducted our own research, and really has allowed us to build on this research by exploring the college- and career-ready gaps among traditionally underserved students. And when we say traditionally underserved students, we’re typically referring to low income students, students of color, English language learners and also students with disabilities.

So, what is a college- and career-ready diploma? Well, the Alliance considers a state to have a CCR diploma pathway. If the pathway requires students to complete four years of English language arts and three years of math through Algebra II or Integrated Math III. Now, the Alliance looked to states to drive this definition. This is not the definition that we created in and of ourselves.

The most common way that states are promoting college and career readiness is through their college- and career-ready standards. So, we recognize also that just these courses alone is not enough for students to truly be college and career ready. However, for comparability across states and in the data this was the most reliable measure that we could use.

So, what does a college- and career-ready diploma look like within a state, and this is an example from the state of Indiana. And Patrick will go further to talk about Indiana’s work on this. Indiana has four pathways to a diploma, and they did so for the class of 2014, and they continued to. Indiana has a general diploma, the Core 40 diploma, the Core 40 with honors diploma, and the Core 40 with technical honors.

And all of these pathways in Indiana are CCR pathways except the general diploma. And you’ll see in this table that most of these pathways require four years of English language arts and three years or more of math in addition to other coursework requirements. In the state of Indiana, this is not common in most states, but in the state of Indiana students are automatically placed in the Core 40 pathway, which is a CCR pathway.

They have to opt out of this pathway to take the less rigorous general diploma pathway, and then they opt in to the higher pathways that you see on the chart. So, this is foundational and this really helps to set up this conversation around what does a CCR diploma look like. Now, for this analysis for this report and this research, the Alliance made contact with all 50 states and the District of Columbia to gather any data that was available to identify the degree to which students in the class of 2014 were graduating college and career ready.

So, we had four research questions. These are things that we wanted to know and that we asked of states. Number one, does your state offer multiple pathways to a high school diploma? Second, does your state track diploma pathways data in the aggregate and disaggregated by student subgroup? Number three, are these data publicly available? And the fourth question was, are there alternative ways for a student to earn a high school diploma?

So, now we’ll jump into the overall findings. So, for the class of 2014, we discovered nearly 100 pathways to a diploma across 50 states and DC. And roughly half of those pathways were CCR diploma pathways. We also discovered that 18 states offered no CCR aligned pathway for students, meaning that the state did not have a policy in place that said all students should take the CCR diploma pathway.

That doesn’t mean that students in that state did not have access to college- and career-ready coursework. There just was no defined pathway at the state level. We also learned that 32 states plus DC offered one or more CCR diploma pathway. I think that’s important to point out, and I do want to mention that we’re talking about state-level data in this research.

School districts have the leverage and the flexibility, and there’s a lot of control within states to create more rigorous pathways and to assign additional course requirements. But, because this is state-level data we’re talking about what happens at the state level across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

So, additional findings revealed that there were 23 multiple pathway states. So, 23 states and DC offered multiple pathways to a diploma. DC was not one of the states, but across all states and DC there were 23 states that had multiple pathways to a diploma. Now, 9 of these 23 states had at least one CCR pathway, and they were tracking the data, both in the aggregate and by subgroup. And that’s really key that they were tracking the data because it’s an important point to this research.

So, these are the nine states featured in our report. Arkansas, California, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Texas, and Virginia, all states are covered in the report, and these are the nine states that we were able to gather data from. So, we really did deep and look at what these states are doing around their college and career ready pathways. And these states really give us helpful insight on the level of college and career readiness of students within these states that have multiple pathways to a diploma. So, let’s look at the findings.

So, Finding 1 shows that the college- and career-ready graduation rate is much lower than the adjusted cohort graduation rate in most states. And mostly what the public see when talking about graduation data is the data in the column that says, “ACGR.” The public do not typically look at the data in the second column. So, it’s really important to point out the differences and the distinction here.

And let’s look at the state of California. So, California had an 81 percent graduation rate for the class of 2014. However, for that same class, only about 42 percent of the graduates graduated with a CCR diploma. And the same was true for the majority of the states in this report, and you can look across the table here and see the differences for the respective states that are listed here.

Finding 2 really focuses on Maryland. And Finding 2 basically says traditionally inner city students are less likely to graduate with a CCR diploma than their peers. And for this state we pulled out the data from Maryland. And Maryland really reflects, again, most of the states in this report. And you can see here that the advantage subgroups in the far-left columns had higher CCR graduation rates than the disadvantaged subgroups in the far-right columns.

For example, the CCR graduation rate for students who are not low income – and they’re in bold, you can see them towards the bottom in bold – in Maryland. The CCR graduation rate for students who are not low income was roughly 73 percent. In comparison with 52 percent for low income students. So, that shows the gap is pretty significant there across the board. But, we pulled out the students who are low income and the students who are not low income as an example.

So, for finding three, this reveals that states with CCR diplomas as their main graduation pathway have smaller CCR gaps between subgroups. So, you notice the two tables here. One says, “CCR Main,” on the left. And the other says, “No CCR Main.” So, if you take a look at the first table that has Arkansas, Indiana, and Texas you see that these gaps are pretty small. The gaps are less than five percent between the traditionally underserved subgroups and their peers.

There’s even a negative gap between whites and African-Americans in Arkansas because more African-American students for the class of 2014 graduated college and career ready than their white peers. It’s a small difference, but it does show you that’s typically the reverse of what you expect between subgroups.

And when you look at the second table with California, Maryland, and Massachusetts you see gaps larger than ten percentage points. And the difference really lies, when you look at this, the difference really lies in state policy. When all students in a state are automatically placed in a rigorous CCS pathway, starting in the ninth grade, as they are in Arkansas, Indiana, and Texas they are more likely to remain in that pathway through graduation. Unless of course parents choose to withdraw students from that pathway.

But, the policy distinction is very important to point out. When states kind of set expectations high for all students at the outset, students are living up to those expectations and are graduating more college and career ready.

Let’s move onto the fourth finding. This finding shows that among racial and ethnic groups CCR gaps were largest for African-American students in most states. And this slide displays the CCR gaps between African-American students and their white peers. And the bubbles indicate the size of the gaps within states from Texas’s gap at 6.8 percent to New York’s gap at 33.9 percent, the gaps really show how significant some of the gaps were for traditionally underserved subgroups in the nine states. And again, this is very specific to African-American students where the gaps were the largest.

Finding 5 shows that in most states there were considerable CCR gaps between students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. And this graphic, again, illustrates the size of those gaps within states. And the gaps range from 11.8 percent in Massachusetts to a 63.1 percent gap in the state of Texas. Across all nine states students with disabilities were less likely to graduate with a CCR diploma and more likely to graduate with a less rigorous diploma.

And in some cases, the least rigorous option for students in the state. And there are some states, and you’ll see when you read our report, that had specific diploma pathways for students with disabilities. So, let’s talk about what this looks like in terms of post-secondary outcomes for students who are taking multiple pathways to a diploma. And you’ll see that Indiana gets this big, bright shining award.

Indiana really does a great job, and Patrick, again, will speak to – he’ll speak more to this about the state’s policies and the impact that it has for kids in Indiana. And the slide really makes the case for the importance of a CCR diploma. Indiana is the only state with multiple pathways to a diploma that tracks post-secondary outcomes by pathway. And this is notable.

You’ll see here that the two CCR diploma pathways, which are the two first rows, the Core 40 with honors and the Core 40 diploma. They have the most promising post-secondary outcomes for students. Students who graduate with one of these pathways are more likely to enroll in college. They’re less likely to need remediation and they’re more likely to have a higher GPA than their peers.

So, if you look at, again, take a look at these examples, the Core 40 diploma, for example, in comparison to the general diploma, those students are more likely to enroll in college. You’ll see the difference of the 24 percent versus the 59 percent. And the students who have a Core 40 with honors are more likely to enroll even than the other two, and they’re the less likely to need remediation.

So, this is a good example of when you see that, when students have access to a rigorous diploma pathway, the better their post-secondary outcomes tend to be. And again, this is an example of one state and the success that they’re having. But, this can be indicative of what other state’s pathways can lead to in terms of their post-secondary outcomes.

Another research question that we had for states was, are there alternative ways for a student to earn a high school diploma if they did not meet the mandated graduation requirements. And 35 states answered yes to this question indicating that the state made waivered diplomas available to students. And the report gets into this in pretty good detail.

But, a waiver diploma essentially is a regular high school diploma awarded to students for which the state alters, substitutes, or removes state adopted graduation requirements. And the Alliance found 37 instances of waivers across 35 states where the state either provided waivers from course requirements or from end of course assessments. And in some cases the waivers were provided to all students. But, in other cases they were only provided to students with disabilities.

And to provide you an example of what we mean by a waiver, there were some cases where states would allow students to opt out of, say, a third year of math. And in place of that third year of math they would be allowed to take a CTE course. And there were cases where the CTE course would be – there would be a requirement that the standards in that CTE course aligned with the standards across the board.

But, it was not always clear if the level of rigor was the same for the class that they were opting out of. Another example is when a student may not meet a required course on a course assessment, and yet the state would allow the student to demonstrate competency in a core subject through another means. Such as completing a project or passing a grade and the course of question – there were some examples the state would just waive the requirements for students altogether if the student took multiple chances at passing the exam and simply could not pass the exam.

The Alliance considers these examples as waivers because the students were not required to meet the full repertoire of the state’s mandated graduation requirements. So, let’s move onto the next slide in this presentation. We’re coming to the end here. Let’s talk about data tracking and reporting. This is really significant. ‘Cause this really talks about the degree to which states are being transparent.

So, of the 23 states with multiple pathways to a diploma featured in our report, these ten states here were not tracking pathways data at all in the aggregate or disaggregated by subgroup. So, we really don’t know for students in these states who’s graduating college and career ready and who is not.

This next group of states were the only ten states that provided publicly available data by pathway. Meaning their data could be accessed online, through a searchable engine, or a state report card or even a downloadable file of some kind. Now there are only five states, and those are states with gold stars. These are shining stars. Only five states provided publicly available data by subgroup for each of their pathways.

And really, providing subgroup data, so not just kind of overall data but data by each individual subgroup that’s really the most robust and transparent way of making data available to the public. And just, again, as a reminder, Indiana is the only state providing post-secondary outcomes by pathway.

So, we have a number of recommendations on the report, and there are a few here that we want to highlight is that state high school graduation requirements should align with the full breadth and depth of the CCR standards in the state. And this really just makes the expectations for students align. So, if you have college- and career-ready standards, the graduation requirements should look like those standards.

The second recommendation we’re highlight is states with CCR diplomas should make the CCR diploma the main diploma for all students. ‘Cause that sets the expectations high for all students at a state. Additionally, state and local report cards should publicly report pathways data in the aggregate and disaggregated by pathway and by student subgroup as we showed you the slide before that five states were doing that now.

School districts and high schools should educate parents and students about post-secondary outcomes align with a particular pathway that their student might be on. As it pertains to ESSA state plans as we know that there are a number of states that still have not yet submitted their state plans to the Department of Education.

But, in terms of accountability there are certain things that states should consider as they’re thinking about their fifth indicator or their school quality or student success indicator. One, including the percentage of students enrolled in post-secondary education without the need for remediation is a great indicator of college and career readiness.

Additionally, for states with multiple pathways to a diploma, including the percentage of students graduating with a CCR diploma in those states is also a great indicator of college and career readiness. So, given all of this research and data in findings, this really just highlights and points to what states are doing around college and career readiness for students and states; the degree to which they’re measuring it at all. But also in terms of post-secondary performance how this impacts students on the backend as to whether or not they are walking away with these diplomas of value or not. So, that highlights – that’s a good kind of overall interpretation of what the report shows.

Bob Wise:    Thank you, Dr. Almond. And thank you for all the work. I do have one quick follow-up question. Actually just to reiterate something, which is that as you look at the 23 states with multiple pathways, but you actually will only to go in depth in 9 because they actually provided the data. They had the data publicly available based on aggregated on subgroups.

Dr. Monica Almond:    Indeed.

Bob Wise:    So, I just want to call them out because I think it’s important that all states were making this data so readily available because even though the results extensively may not be so great on those nine states, they were putting it out there. And that gives everyone the opportunity to see firsthand and then to also develop what we do about it and to work from a strong data platform as opposed to not having it. So, I just want to commend the leaders in those states for having that data so readily available and hopefully if we do this analysis another year or so that there’ll be more states that have it as well. So, thank you very, very much, Dr. Almond for doing this.

So, now you mentioned Indiana. So, let’s talk to Patrick McAlister to see what this looks like at the state level. And so, Patrick, Indiana is a leader in graduating students with a college- and career-ready diploma. It’s featured in the report. What was the impetus behind the Indiana’s Core 40 legislation and could you describe the impact on students?

Patrick McAlister:    Yes. So, first I want to say thanks Governor Wise and Dr. Almond for including us in the conversation. We’re appreciative of the analysis you provided on CCR diplomas. In Indiana we established this diploma a while back. In fact it was so long ago that I remember it when I was in high school. And it was really a reflection of a collaboration between the Department of Education, the legislature, the governor’s office, workforce partners and the higher education commission.

We really wanted to create a diploma that was able to get students to a place where they will be college and career ready. And we wanted to ensure that all students had access to the elements they needed so that they are college and career ready. We were also really wanted to emphasize data disaggregation and to ensure that all students are tracked and that we can see where those graduates are going.

I also wanted to – as a part of the conversation I also wanted to talk about some of the other elements that Indiana is working on as it relates to college and career readiness. We are in the process of developing what we’re calling graduation pathways, but they’re essentially graduation qualifying events.

The goal with this is to ensure that all students are graduating high school not only with a diploma that sets them up for success, but also an indicator that they are prepared to enter the workforce or attend college. So, in order to graduate in Indiana we’re developing a process that can really map that.

So, we’re looking at possible graduation pathways that could include AP exams, ACT or SAT exams, dual credit certifications, something like the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or industry-recognized certificates. These would all be in addition to the college- and career-ready diploma that we already have many of our students enter into.

And the last piece that we can perhaps emphasize when we’re talking about Indiana is we’re always trying to find ways to improve our approach to ensuring that all students are prepared for life after high school. And so, we are, as was mentioned before, I’m managing the asset planning process for the department. And we’re right in the middle of our first draft review by our stakeholders.

And we’re talking about what our fifth indicator will be for our high school. And it will likely be some type of college and career ready rate that will include access to AP or IB courses, dual credit courses, and industry certifications. So, we’re trying to, I think, layer in college and career readiness in all the ways we measure how schools are doing to determine whether or not they’re actually preparing students for life after school.

Bob Wise:    So, Patrick, thank you. I have a follow-up question for you. What’s been the impact on traditionally underserved students since the Core 40 was implemented?

Patrick McAlister:    So, we’ve been able to see how traditionally underserved students are doing as it relates to college and career readiness. And then we’ve seen an increase in those students who are prepared to, once they leave high school for either college or for the workforce. What we’re still trying to work on is to continue to close that gap, which is why we’re looking at new graduation pathways, and we’re also including a – that fifth indicator around college and career readiness in our ESSA plan.

Bob Wise:    Thank you. So, now let’s turn to Jeanne in California to learn more about efforts underway in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jeanne, thank you very much for participating, and if you could tell us about the work you’re doing in America’s second largest school district to increase the rigor of graduation requirements and ensure that more students are graduating college and career ready?

Jeanne Fauci:    Thanks so much, Governor Wise. So, just to give you a little background. Since 2003 the center for Powerful Public Schools, which is an educational non-profit based in Los Angeles has built the capacity of educators to create and sustain public schools that prepare all students for college, career, and life. So, this whole topic is of great interest to us.

And we’re also part of an advocacy group that’s supported by United Way of Greater Los Angeles called CLASS, which stands for Communities for LA Student Success that together advocates for all students graduating high school with a diploma that demonstrates they’re prepared for college and career.

So, what exactly does this mean in LA? In order for California high school students to be eligible for admission to a California state university or University of California, they must complete a series of college preparatory A through G courses that are listed on this slide. And as you can see, those courses do align with CCR requirements as defined by the alliance report.

Beginning with students who enrolled as ninth graders in 2012 and graduated last year in 2016, the A through G requirement became an LAUSD graduation requirement. It wasn’t always this way. It started back in 2005. There was a group, of which many are members of the Class Coalition, a community-based organization, civic leaders, parents, students, researchers, and educational non-profits who all came together to ask the LA Unified School District Board of Education to ratify an A through G for all resolutions.

Because at that time many students, especially low income students of color did not even have access to courses that would allow them to graduate to state university eligible. So, after the resolution was passed there was a gradual rollout. There was really a ten-year rollout of this policy. So, during the first year every high school had to provide enough A through G courses in their master schedules so that students could take the required A through G courses so they could access them.

In 2008, every high school student entering ninth grade would enroll in the A through G course sequence. And as you can see on the slide, in 2012 passing A through G courses became a graduation requirement. So, what has this meant? This policy started as, we had a four-year graduation rate of 48 percent in 2005. I mean, over half of our students didn’t graduate and this particularly affected low-income students of color.

We had a shift in culture of the school district that’s led to improved annual outcomes with annual growth in A through G completion rates, dropout rates are lowered, attendance rates are improved and there’s been an increase in LA students attending college.

The next slide you’ll see compares the averages in 2005, which are indicated in blue versus 2016 averages, which are in green. The first bars on the left of the chart are the A through G completion rates for LAUSD graduates in 2005 and in 2016 respectively. And although you’ll see that there’s not a very large percentage difference between the 2005 and 20016, this is because if you look at the bars on the far-right side, the district graduation rate, as I mentioned, was only at 48 percent. So, that means that students that graduated in – 48 percent of students who graduated in 2005, less than half of them are about 25 percent were A through G eligible.

The bars in the middle of the chart show A through G completion rates for African-American and Hispanic students, which the Alliance report confirms, was and continues to be lower than the overall average across the district, the state, and the country. However, I do want to point out the rise in Hispanic A through G graduation rates are really reflected in the overall graduation rate.

So, that group has improved significantly and because we are a majority Hispanic district, it also significantly influences the overall A through G rate. Now, this has led to a rising number of LAUSD graduates enrolling in college, as shown in the top blue line of the slide. The majority of LAUSD students are shown in the middle green line attend two-year colleges, either because they are not A through G eligible or because of socioeconomic feasibility.

However, a number of those students say they do plan to transfer to a four-year university after two years. The bottom red line shows a percentage of students enrolling in four-year colleges, which has grown steadily since this chart indicates in 2009. So, we’ve come a long way.

However, the A through G resolution in 2005 stated that all students in LAUSD needed to complete courses with a C or better, which is a university requirement to be admissible. And LAUSD had to lower the graduation requirement two years ago to a D or better because too many students would be at risk of not graduating.

A year and a half ago, when LAUSD superintendent, Michelle King, began her tenure in the district, she launched an ambitious credit recovery campaign that has increased the graduation rate to 77 percent this year. We know that students who graduate, however, with one or more courses with a D or better are not adequately prepared.

So, what are some ways we can address this? Because to achieve a C or better college- and career-ready diploma, we need to ensure that more students are on track before they enter high school. As this chart illustrates, LAUSD is improving middle school academic attainment, but we need to realize that for students to be successful in high school, there also needs to be an accelerated focus and new policy on what happens before students become ninth graders.

So, what happens and what are the accountability measures for elementary and middle schools? I also wanted to highlight some of the work, and this connects to just what Patrick was saying in Indiana, that the California State Accountability System is working on really looking at what are college and career indicators so that they contain both measures to ensure students can pursue various post-secondary options?

So, this is a work in progress. It has not been ratified yet. But they’re three performance levels; prepared, approaching prepared, and not prepared for students to pursue post-secondary options. And in the next slide you’ll see that we’re also looking, as Patrick was saying, at indicators that demonstrate both college and career readiness.

So, one of the pathways under discussion right now is that students graduate with a career technical education pathway completion plus standards met on ELA, English language arts, or mathematics and standards nearly met in other subject areas. There’s also sort of a flip reverse of that, which is completion of courses that meet the university A through G criteria plus some of the other following criteria, such CTE pathway completion, dual enrollment, or passing scores on AP exam or an IP exam.

But, I want to point out that also in the report it says that districts and states have the ability to go beyond graduation requirements. And I really want to point this out as something that’s also important for us to think about. LAUSD has a number of high schools who used a linked learning approach to prepare students for college and career.

And this past June, 20 of these programs added a school-based graduation requirement that seniors present a portfolio of their work to show that they have met the graduation outcomes that their school established for academic and career coursework and also illustrated their post-secondary plans.

These senior defenses are a great example that further validates that students are invested in their education and know what it means to be prepared for the next phase of their lives. Thank you.

Bob Wise:    Thank you, Jeanne, for a very extensive description of what’s happening in Los Angeles Unified School District. A lot of data there, a lot of implications for both policy and practice and also I just want to note that you called out specifically the linked learning that’s being done in LA Unified as well as across California. And of course, the Alliance, led by Dr. Almond has been doing a lot of work with the Linked Learning Alliance because we’re encouraged by just the kind of data and results that you mentioned.

So, turning to Dr. Wilson, Valerie Wilson, to better understand the long-term implications of this work. Dr. Wilson, I’d like to note that we’ve heard a lot today about the – rightly so – about the equity imperative behind this. There’s also an economic imperative, and we believe at the Alliance they’re inextricably connected.

Equity means economic opportunity, both in terms of being able to get a good job, but also being able to be a full participant in this economy as a consumer. That’s a lot of difference between whether you’re a $10.00 an hour worker or $30.00 to $50.00 an hour worker. So, you have done extensive research and analysis on issues impacting economic inequality in the US and particularly the impact on America’s people of color. So, my question is, how do we tie what we’ve learned today about college and career readiness in states with workforce outcomes? What does all of this mean for historically underserved groups in the marketplace?

Dr. Valerie Wilson:    Well, thank you, Governor Wise. And thank you Dr. Almond for writing this report and inviting me here today to share some comments. I do want to talk a bit about the implications of the report. First of all, I want to say that I think it’s very clear that universal enrollment in a college and career ready degree pathway significantly narrows gaps by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, et cetera.

But, I also would like to add that I think it’s important that we continue to expand the data available in order to do the kind of rigorous research that will really give us a more solid answer on whether CCR diplomas are actually living up to their name in terms of preparing students for post-secondary success. Whether that be in college or in the workforce.

I think that the data available from Indiana is a good starting point in terms of looking at the difference in post-secondary success or college readiness based on degree pathway. But, I think that data can further be strengthened if we have more information available in order to, for example, provide some before and after comparisons of those college outcomes. As well as we get additional data from other states that’s similarly disaggregated the way that the Indiana data is that allows us to do some across state comparisons and also strengthen that result further.

I think there is less data available, if any, on career readiness. And I think the relevant question there is, will a CCR diploma send a stronger signal to employers than a regular diploma? Or will a CCR diploma increase productivity to the extent that it yields better employment and wage outcomes for students who receive those diplomas.

And then in terms of equity in the market, both in employment disparities as well as post-secondary education disparities faced by traditionally underserved students, I think that that’s a much more difficult question to answer, just because of the range of other factors that play a role in those outcomes. One being whether or not the economy is at full employment and there are enough jobs available to all who are seeking employment.

We also have the issue of racial discrimination in labor markets as well as the longitudal nature of achievement gaps, and Jeanne mentioned this before when she was talking about preparing students for high school well before they get to high school. I think all of those factors will play a role in whether or not CCR requirements help to narrow some of those post-secondary disparities. Whether they be in college or in the workforce.

Now, the second slide, I just want to present some of the educational attainment trends. We’ve already talked about the rising high school completion rate, but I think another important point to make with that is that high school and college completion rates have been rising. And they’ve been rising for all groups.

The graph on the left-hand side shows the percentage of people age 25 and older who have completed a high school degree, high school diploma or more. And as you can see, that trend has been rising over time, but not only has it been rising for all groups, the distance between those lines has been getting narrower. So, that the gaps in high school completion have narrowed as well.

The rising high school completion trend is accompanied by higher percentages of 18- to 19-year-olds enrolling in college. And these gaps have narrowed as well. On the right-hand side of the screen we can see that college completion rates are rising for all groups. However, on that side we do see that the college completion gaps have widened a bit. We see that college completion is increasing faster for non-Hispanic whites than it is for African-Americans or Hispanics.

Among first-time, full-time students, whites are more likely to complete a four-year degree within six years. The reasons for this are both economic as well as academic. So, I think if there’s anywhere that we may be able to draw a link between the importance of a CCR diploma and college success, we can see it in this widening gap in college completion, even as college completion rates are rising for all groups.

On this next slide, this shows what students do after they leave high school. So, when students leave high school there are basically three options. They can start a job. They can enroll in college and they can do neither. What this graph is showing is the percentage of students by race and ethnicity who are, what we call, disconnected. And by “disconnected” we mean they are not in school and not employed.

I think one important point to make on this graph is that the percentage of African-American students are young people who are disconnected is higher than it is for whites or Hispanics. But, I also think it’s important to make the point that that percentage has been declining over time. So, even as we have seen high school graduation rates rise. We’ve seen college completion rates rise. The share of students of color who are disconnect has been declining even though that 20 percent or 17.7 percent for Hispanic students is still much higher than it should be.

On this next slide, this gives us an indication of why we should care about college readiness as well as career readiness. As you can see, even with rising educational attainment, still over a quarter of the workforce has only a high school diploma. And black and Hispanic workers are still more likely to only have a high school diploma than are white non-Hispanics.

Now, this makes a difference when we look at earnings. On average, college graduates make 56.6 percent more than high school graduates. And this figure has been rising over time. So, if we find that CCR diplomas send a stronger signal about worker productivity there may be potential to narrow some of that difference between what college graduates are earning and what people with a high school diploma only are earning. But that remains to be seen.

Another caution there is that if large disparities remain for those who have access to CCR diplomas then it could also expand or worsen existing racial pay gaps. Because in addition to the difference in pay between college graduates and those with a high school diploma, we also continue to have significant racial pay disparities at both levels of education.

This next slide shows the big gaps in employment opportunities after high school by race and ethnicity. So, this graph shows you recent high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 20 who are not enrolled in further schooling. Now it’s true that the unemployment rates rise and fall with the business cycle, depending on whether or not we’re in a recession or not.

But, the racial disparities that you will see are fairly consistent over time. You can see by the distance between each of the three lines. The differences in unemployment rates of recent white and black high school graduates are significantly large, 26.5 percent unemployment for new high graduates who are African-American compared to 14 percent of new white high school graduates.

So, there’s a significant racial disparity in employment right out of high school that we can see. Now, the point that I want to make with this next slide that shows young college graduates is, first of all, these unemployment rates are much lower than they are for high school graduates only. So, it’s clear that the additional skills or credentials contribute to lower unemployment rates.

Again, if a CCR diploma is something that is improving or increasing productivity, we would expect that to have an effect on the unemployment rates and bring them down as well. But, again, there’s still racial differences in unemployment rates, a recent black and white college graduates. Although they’re not nearly as large as they are – as we showed in the previous slide among recent high school graduates.

So, a college degree lowers the unemployment rate for all groups. And to some extent it reduces the difference between groups. So, the question again is, might a CCR diploma have a similar kind of labor market effect for high school graduates by signaling that they have higher productivity.

Bob Wise:    Thank you, Dr. Wilson. There’s a lot of data in there to work through. And I just want to remind all of our viewers that the PowerPoints will be included in the archived version of this webinar. So, you can just go in and root out whatever you need to your heart’s content. Binge watch over the weekend.

Let me turn to our lightning fast question round. We’ve got a lot of questions coming in. So, Patrick, I’m going to turn first to you. The first question comes from Amanda in Raleigh, North Carolina who asks, “How are states approaching the idea of an alternate diploma?”

And specifically for you, Patrick, we know that under ESSA states are able to use an alternative assessment that is aligned with a state’s alternative academic standards to award a state-defined alternative diploma for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. What’s Indiana’s plan for using an alternative diploma under ESSA?

Patrick McAlister:    That’s a great question, Governor Wise. Indiana has a certificate of completion that we’ve been working on strengthening with special education partners, teachers, parents, special education directors. And we would like to move towards and alternative diploma eventually. But, we want to make sure that our certificate of completion is aligned and meaningful. And we want to, over time, build towards developing an alternative diploma.

Bob Wise:    So, while I’ve got you, let me quickly turn to another question going in a somewhat different direction. Lula in Mississippi asks, “What do parents receive to enable them to assist their children in taking the best diploma path possible?”

Patrick McAlister:    That’s a good question. It’s really a partnership between schools, specifically guidance counselors and parents. They have to know the options. They have to know the implications of which diploma they choose. And at a local level schools, teachers and parents and specifically guidance counselors work together to determine the most optimal choice for their child.

Bob Wise:    Jeanne, any thoughts on that one? Based on your work in LA Unified and other districts.

Jeanne Fauci:    Yes. I think LA Unified is looking at universal enrollment, which brings up all sorts of questions on the topic of really how our students, pre-high school, are informed of their choices and the many choices that exist in LAUSD with different school models. And I would just echo what Patrick said, that it’s really important that guidance counselors, especially at the middle school level really understand just what the options are and are able to explain them to families as well as there’s online access that the district provides to really being very descriptive of what those choices are and how parents can access those choices.

Bob Wise:    Thank you. ‘Cause this is, I think going to be an increasingly important question over the next several years as more and more college and career pathways become available and parents need to be more knowledgeable. So, let me turn to Monica, if I could to a question from Kristy in the District of Columbia who asks, “Have states and districts made the effort to raise graduation requirements by reducing diploma requirements? Or were there other reasons for this disparity in diploma requirements?

Dr. Monica Almond:    That’s a very important question. And even with the unfolding of the new ESSA law I think a lot of states are looking to the way in which they’re going to be calculating their graduation rate. And it’s kind of difficult to answer that question because, for this report, we looked at one point in time we looked at the class of 2014.

So, we really didn’t do an examination of over time as graduation requirements were increasing, where diploma pathways proliferating, or were they becoming easier for students to graduate? I think what was a little bit unclear to us is as states in the vast majority of states in 2010 adopted the Common Core state standards. But, even with the adoption of those standards they did not necessarily change their graduation requirements.

And in order to meet the standards you need to meet the certain threshold of rigor in both English language arts and math, but only 19 states really have their graduation requirements that align with these standards. And so, it’s not quite clear as to why that alignment is missing. But, in addition, as the report kind of points out, you have these multiple paths that lead to the same diploma.

So, you have students who are on – they’re getting the same piece of paper at the end of the day, but they are taking different routes to get there, and they are unequal in terms of their degree of rigor. So, I think as states continue to have these multiple pathways to a diploma that may very well continue to help their graduation rate if all students are not kind of required to meet higher expectations.

Bob Wise:    So, Jeanne, let me turn back to you with a question from another participant from the District of Columbia. How do you suggest this information be integrated into personal preparation and professional development programs to inform teachers and principals?

Jeanne Fauci:    I think first, teachers, principals and anyone that’s in a professional preparation program need to understand what is the state and district policy? And how does that really lead to equitable outcomes for students, especially those who are the most historically underserved. So, I think they have to look at that and question it.

But, then they also need to look at data and that’s why I think it’s crucially important that states and districts provide publicly available robust data so that teachers in schools can see where their students are and know what the requirements are and decide as a community where they want their students to be by the time they leave whatever grade level of the school it is and what they’re going to do as a community to get their students to reach the outcomes that we all know – to what Valerie said – really do prepare our young people for a place in society and a living wage job.

Bob Wise:    Thank you. In moving to – actually two questions somewhat similar, Monica we’ll start with you. We have a question from Angel in New York who asks, “How can we fairly compare school districts to one another nationally when there’s so many contextual factors, such as exit requirements, resource allocations, sociodemographics, admission processes, et cetera?”

Dr. Monica Almond:    Good question. In our report we’re not comparing districts. We’re not really focusing on districts in this report. It’s state level data and state level research. But, we also were very intentional about not comparing states to one another. Even though all the state data is there and they’re listed side by side, we were intentional about not doing that because the policies differ. The course requirements that lead to a diploma differ. Some states have a course assessment, some states do not.

So, we were very mindful as to not do a comparison across states. It’s really looking in states to see, for the states that do offer students a college and career ready diploma, where do the gaps exist, so the states can ask a question of why do these gaps exist? So, even in terms of our states, even though if we do have a college- and career-ready diploma are requiring students through that diploma to graduate with a C or better as Jeanne articulated in LAUSD.

The requirement is that students graduate with a D. So, I think in terms of the comparisons we’re very mindful not to do that because the students look different. The policies are different. The priorities are different. The vision is different. The funding context is a little bit different. So, it’s really looking at what’s happening within a particular state for a state to look and see how can we make changes based on what these outcomes show?

Bob Wise:    So, let me turn to Jeanne, ’cause there’s a question coming in the same vein from a caller in Michigan who observes, “When I did my student teaching, I realized the discrepancies of public education in the suburbs to the inner city of Detroit and Pontiac. How can we take into account poverty and social problems, such as drug abuse, and still have high expectations for all students?

Jeanne Fauci:    That’s a great question because it is important not to let those expectations go and to really think about how many of our youth in those situations she’s talking about in our inner cities and in our suburbs and in our rural areas are trauma-affected. And how does that affect their schooling? You don’t have a student coming into school who’s not without carrying all the varying elements of their life with them.

So, we also need to have strong social and emotional frameworks along with the academic and the career piece so that we can make sure that our students are supported to have the internal strength and grit and all those things that folks talk about to really get the odd where they are.

And we also cannot have equal funding. We need to have equitable funding, so that that students who have had historically less opportunities have more opportunity and that goes along with funding streams.

Bob Wise:    So, Monica, I’m going to come back to you. Jeanne addressed this for California, but Jacqueline in Maryland asks, “Was it the case in the states that you exam that the CCR diploma is aligned to the admission requirements for the state’s public university system?

Dr. Monica Almond:    Yeah. Another really good question. So, we point out in the report in the appendix which states college-ready diplomas matched up with admission requirements for the universities within that state. And the states that come into mind right now, along with California, Indiana’s Core 40, when they pass a legislation.

One of the purposes of that legislation was to ensure that if you take the Core 40 diploma, you’re going to have admission to Indiana State University system. Wisconsin has something called a Hathaway Scholarship that students can earn. It’s funding for students to be able to go onto post-secondary education.

But, it requires that they complete a sequence of college- and career-ready coursework that they earn, I believe it’s a certain GPA in their coursework. Nevada’s advanced diploma is aligned with admissions requirements in Nevada as well as Michigan has something called an early exit diploma that allow students who graduate with that CCR pathway sequence to gain access to the university system in that state.

So, I think it’s a very important that not only are CCR diplomas aligned with CCR standards in a state, but it would be great if they aligned with admissions requirements for the university. I mean, you’re just knocking out all these different requirements and making it more easy for kids to go onto college if that’s what they prefer.

Bob Wise:    And Valerie, I was struck in your data, particularly with the reduction in gaps once students got to and persisted in post-secondary education. And so, for all the policymakers right now preparing their ESSA plans 34 states, I believe submit as Indiana will be submitting, submit in September. There is a clear link, isn’t there, between economic attainment and economic achievement?

Valerie Wilson:    There is a very clear connection between how you perform academically, whether or not you go onto get additional education and then what the payoff for that is in the labor market. So, as I mentioned, a college degree definitely will yield you greater chances of being employed and higher wages.

I think it’s important the CCR diploma for students who choose not to go onto college that they still are able to increase productivity to the extent that it gives them an opportunity to earn more than they may have otherwise. But, it definitely has major economic implications to have higher educational attainment in the US economy.

Bob Wise:    So, I want to thank everybody for participating, and I want to read the last question, which we’ve touched on various ways today, but I think is really the topic for another webinar, get ready Dr. Almond, another webinar. And this is from James in Washington who writes, “Regardless of the diploma pathway taken, how do we ensure more students, especially those who are historically underserved are college and career ready?”

And I believe the report issued today, Paper Thin? Why All High School Diplomas Are Not Created Equal, that provides a good launch pad for the very important discussion and set of recommendations to come out. So, thank you, James, and stay tuned.

And I want to also thank Patrick McAllister, Jeanne Fauci, Valerie Wilson, and Monica Almond for all the work that you’ve done in preparing for this today. I encourage everyone to go to the Alliance website to read Paper Thin? Why All Diplomas Are Not Created Equal. And we welcome your report, your thoughts, your comments to download the report simply go to the link below.

And once again, I want to thank our audience for joining us and participating with questions. If you missed any of today’s webinar or want to share it with your colleagues, the archive video will be available tomorrow at We hope you join us for future webinars on these important topics. Thank you for joining us. Have a great day.

[Music Plays]

[End of Audio]

Categories: College- and Career-Ready Standards, High School Graduation Rates and Secondary School Improvement, High School Reform

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