The Charlottesville School Board on Thursday was briefed on new diploma requirements effective for students entering ninth grade this fall.
The Virginia Department of Education’s Profile of a Virginia Graduate is a framework for new standards aimed at aligning high school curricula with the economic needs of the state.
A law approved by the 2016 General Assembly and signed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe directed the Virginia Board of Education to develop and implement the Profile to help high school students be successful in the global economy as it is shaped by new technologies.
According to a draft of the Board of Education’s revised standards of accreditation, “stakeholders have asked that graduates be prepared with skills and attributes such as critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration, and citizenship in order to be prepared to be successful in life and competitive in the work world.”
The new standards proposed by the VDOE would allow students to take fewer Standards of Learning tests to earn their diplomas.
Advanced and standard diplomas would each require five verified credits instead of the nine currently required for an advanced diploma and six for a standard diploma.
Kendra King, director of student services and achievement for the city school division, said the Profile of a Virginia Graduate still is being revised to ensure it complies with the federal Every Students Succeeds Act.
“The VDOE continues to define the Profile of a Virginia Graduate; the dust has not settled,” she said. “Our state department is waiting for next steps from the federal government to determine the direction of their continued development of the Profile.”
VDOE officials have said the department hopes to allow students who do not pass SOL tests to receive a limited number of “locally awarded verified credits” from their school boards. This option currently is only available to special education students.
Instead of an SOL test, students could earn a locally awarded verified credit by completing an “authentic assessment,” consisting of a task or project that would be graded on a rubric.
“That is in discussion, and we all got very excited about it, ... but we are unable to do that until we get the approval [from the state],” city Superintendent Rosa Atkins said. “We do not want to hand out any of those details until it is approved.”
The new standards also would require high schools to expand opportunities for students to gain work experience through internships and externships, and to attain workforce and career readiness and industry credentials.
School Board member Amy Laufer asked if the school division had identified businesses where students could be placed for internships.
“I don’t think there is a road map to developing the curriculum [the VDOE] is asking us to provide,” Laufer said.
Atkins said students would also be able to develop workforce skills in their school, or through virtual experiences.
“The reality is, we don’t have as many businesses in this community as could house each of our students,” Atkins said. “I applaud [the VDOE] for thinking outside the box and giving us some leeway,” she said.
Eric Irizarry, principal of Charlottesville High School, said CHS students already have opportunities to complete capstone projects in engineering, photography, urban farming and other subjects, sometimes in partnership with local companies and businesses.
Teachers for Tomorrow, a statewide program for recruiting high school students into the teaching profession, is a new addition to the high school’s program of study for 2018-2019.
“Teachers for Tomorrow helps students develop skills in leadership areas with a focus on teaching,” Irizarry said. “We would love for more of our students to enter the education field and come back here.”
Atkins and Irizarry said Charlottesville City Schools’ latest strategic plan, adopted by the School Board in 2017, was designed with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate in mind.
“Our strategic plan was built around the Profile,” Irizarry said. “We knew this was coming. It’s just a matter of putting the pathways in place for our students.”
Charlottesville City Schools has been relatively quiet about its preparation for the new state standards in comparison with the neighboring Albemarle County school system.
In 2016, Albemarle County Public Schools launched High School 2022, an initiative to redesign the county’s high school curriculum and to plan for the modernization and construction of high school facilities.
Albemarle laid the groundwork for High School 2022 at four School Board meetings and a division-wide community meeting in 2016 and 2017. Additional community meetings were also held at middle schools throughout the county.
This fall, Albemarle’s high schools will introduce a required freshman seminar on social and emotional development concepts. The county school division also is expected open a small student center to support internships and project-based learning in leased space at the Seminole Place industrial facility.