Cumberland schools approve tiered diploma system

Cumberland schools approve tiered diploma system

CUMBERLAND – School Committee members last week unanimously approved a new tiered graduation system that will allow more students to earn a diploma.

Cumberland High School Principal Adolfo Costa, speaking to the School Committee last Thursday, May 9, said Director of Special Education Rachel Santa came to him earlier this year about really taking a look at the diploma system and the high number of students not eligible to receive diplomas. Much of the guidance for the longstanding policies has come from the Rhode Island Department of Education, he said, and RIDE was now putting a little pressure on the district for the high numbers of students not eligible for a diploma in a system built around college preparedness.

The result of discussion involving Santa and Assistant Supt. Antonio DiManna over the past few months, said Costa, is a system with two tracks, one the “college readiness diploma” and the other the “alternate pathway diploma” for those students who may be looking to start a career right out of high school and aren’t intending to go to a four-year school.

“We really wanted it to be something that every student at the high school could achieve, but achieve within their own path,” he said.

Officials looked at a number of different policies in other districts, said Costa. Barrington was one of the first schools to have a tiered diploma system, and Smithfield is in the process of changing its system.

The change allows officials to retroactively look at student work and do new transcript audits for current students who may be behind where they need to be to graduate due to certain courses they haven’t been able to take. Students taking several intervention classes will now be able to take those as part of their learning rather than seeing them as a roadblock to getting to the courses needed for a diploma, Costa said.

“It really is super supportive of all of our students,” he said.

Committee member Mark Fiorillo noted that this change might free up time for school interventionists to invest in areas where they might be more needed.

Staff will have the responsibility to tell parents that a certain course sequence is the one their child needs to be taking if they’re going to a four-year school, said Costa.

The tracks will never be delineated on diplomas themselves or any other school document, and are for communication purposes only, said Costa. He said employers and colleges can still look at transcripts to determine what sort of applicant they’re considering. A transcript showing geometry, algebra 2, pre-calculus and calculus will give a good clue on the track a young person was on in high school.

Another real-world impact of this change is that a student on the alternative diploma path would no longer need to take a second year of a foreign language.

Local school officials have received permission from the Rhode Island Department of Education to implement the policy right away. That means, as committee member Heidi Waters sought clarification on, it would make freshmen, sophomores and juniors currently at CHS eligible for the alternative diploma path.