Counselors review graduation changes

SUWANEE - Some high school counselors who attended a public meeting Tuesday in Gwinnett said the session raised questions about the state's proposed changes to graduation requirements.

Curtisa Johnson, a counselor at Chattahoochee High School in Fulton County, said she had questions about the nuances of the graduation rule that would affect students. She said she wants to be as clear as possible about how the graduation requirements would affect students' decisions to go to a two- or four-year college.

"We don't often have the opportunity to give input that directly affects what we're doing," Johnson said.

She said she would take information presented by the state Department of Education to her school, where more questions would likely be raised. The state is proposing changes to graduation requirements that would affect the class of 2012, made up of this year's rising eighth-graders.

One of the biggest changes the state is proposing is the elimination of the tiered diploma system, which allows students to pursue a college preparatory diploma or a technical career diploma. Students, with the exception of some students with disabilities, would also be required to take four years of math instead of three.

Under this proposed system, counselors would have to ensure students who wish to go to a four-year college in Georgia take classes not required for graduation, such as two years of a foreign language. Students with disabilities who would like to attend college would have to take four years of math, instead of opting to take three years with support classes.

Sandy Owens, a counselor at Milton High School in Fulton County, said it's important for educators to understand the proposed requirements because they will advise students on what classes to take to meet their educational or career goals.

"There's a high level of accountability that counselors have," Owens said. "It would behoove us to know what all the options are."

Colleen Lambert, a Hall County resident who works with Partnerships for Success, said she is concerned that the proposal does not meet the needs of students working toward a vocational career.

The current system provides these students with the opportunity to obtain a technical career diploma. By eliminating that option, Lambert said she is concerned the state would be requiring the students to take classes they do not need, which might discourage some from earning their diploma.

The proposal does, however, create options for students with disabilities and with severe cognitive disabilities that do not currently exist, Lambert sad. Using disabled students' individualized education programs to meet graduation requirements is a strong point in the proposal, she said.

John Wight, a professional learning specialist with the Department of Education, encouraged about a dozen people in attendance at the meeting to submit their questions and concerns to the committee that is working on a second draft of the proposal.

The second draft will be released this month, and another round of input sessions will be held to gather feedback, Wight said. The state Board of Education will hold a public hearing about the new graduation requirements before voting in September to adopt the new requirements.

For those who are unable to attend a meeting, written comments and questions can be sent to the Department of Education's Policy Division via e-mail at policy@doe.k12.ga.us or by mail to Graduation Rule Input, c/o Georgia Department of Education Policy Division, 2053 Twin Towers East, 205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334.

The proposal can be viewed online at www.gadoe.edu.