Colorado’s two statewide education boards on Thursday approved specifications for an “endorsed” high school diploma that would guarantee students automatic admission to some state colleges and universities.

GraduationBut the new diplomas will be optional for school districts, and they may spread slowly through the state. The Aurora Public Schools has been working on such a diploma and may award them next spring.

Creation and approval of criteria for the endorsed diploma was required by a landmark 2008 law, the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K). Among other things, that law required creation of new state content standards and tests and also greater integration of K-12 and higher education, including steps to make it easier for students to move from high school to college and to reduce the need for remediation.

A task force of educators has been working on the project, but the law required the elected State Board of Education and the appointed Colorado Commission on Higher Education to jointly approve the criteria for what’s formally called the “Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness High School Diploma Endorsement.”

The only no vote among the 15 members of the two boards who were present was SBE member Deborah Scheffel. She said after the meeting she opposed the endorsed diploma because it creates what she characterized as a “two-tier system.”

“I think it complicates the system that’s already tough for kids to navigate,” she said.

But Happy Haynes of CCHE dismissed concerns that endorsed diplomas would divide students into two tracks, saying, “It’s not the only way for students to get into college.”

She also said remaining details about the program can be worked out. “I think this is a matter of us taking action and us getting out of the way.”

Some members who voted yes also had questions – and suggestions.

CCHE member Jim Polsfut didn’t much like the long name, arguing the new diploma should have a name that would sound more appealing to young people.  “Is there a way of doing it with a little more punch?” he asked. “It may not be embraced by students unless it has a little marketing punch to it.”

And SBE member Elaine Gantz Berman wondered if some districts would be reluctant to use endorsed diplomas because of the potential cost and time involved and the potential burden on high school counselors.

Luis Colon, a new CCHE member, wondered, “Has anyone asked the students how they feel about this?”

“It is probably our students who are pushing hardest” for endorsed diplomas, said Ron Marostica, assistant superintendent in the 2,500-student Sterling district. Successful implementation also will require active involvement by teachers, Marostica said. Like Aurora, Sterling has been working on the endorsed diploma project.

Misti Ruthven, a Department of Education staffer who is working on the project, noted that the task force is continuing its work and will take note of the issues raised by the two boards.

Students who earn the endorsed diplomas would be guaranteed to meet minimum admissions requirements for Metro State University, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Adams State University, Western State Colorado University and community and technical colleges.

Such students would receive “priority consideration” at the state’s more selective campuses, including the University of Colorado System, CSU-Fort Collins, the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado Mesa University and Fort Lewis College.

To earn an endorsed diploma, a student must satisfy four indicators:

  • Readiness in math and English language arts
  • Completion of an individual career and academic plan
  • Demonstration of proficiency in 21st Century skills
  • Demonstration of mastery of academic content in three subject areas

The criteria include detailed descriptions of the kinds of test scores, grades, classes and activities that a student needs to achieve in order to fulfill the four indicators. Get those details here.