Austin ISD approves 'Distinguished' graduation path as district default plan

In response to statewide changes to high school graduation plans, at its Dec. 16 meeting the Austin ISD board of trustees unanimously approved the Distinguished Level of Achievement as the default graduation plan for the school district.

The school district's new default graduation plan will automatically set students on one graduation course, starting with the class of 2018. Trustees also approved the requirement of one credit of physical education and one half credit of health to meet graduation requirements for all plans beginning with the Class of 2018.

HB 5, which was signed into law earlier this year, replaces the state's Minimum, Recommended and Distinguished graduation plans with new Foundation High School Program plan options. The new graduation plans include a 22-credit Foundation diploma, which can be completed with endorsements—areas of concentration—for 26 credits. Students can also earn a Distinguished Level of Achievement by participating in advanced courses. The district's HB 5 policy planning committee for graduation plans recommended the default plan after seeking feedback from parents, middle and high school principals and Campus Advisory Councils from each middle and high school.

Trustee Robert Schneider said he supports the Distinguished plan and he wanted to know how the district will keep track of students who choose not to participate in that degree program.

"The thing about the Distinguished plan is that [for] every kid, we automatically know that they're doing everything that they need to do to get into college, and it's not that way with some of the other options," he said.

The Distinguished Level of Achievement requires students to complete not only the 26 credits required by the foundation plan plus at least one endorsement, but also advanced science and math courses, including algebra II.

Students would only be able to opt out of the default plan if a parent, counselor and the school's principal signed off on the change, according to Paul Cruz, AISD's chief of schools officer.

"We want to make sure people are being very thoughtful about it," Cruz said.

Some attendees during citizens communication said they support the district's new default plan. Drew Scheberle, senior vice president, education and talent development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said more AISD students are ready for college and career than ever before.

"[The Distinguished Level of Achievement plan] is really the same as the Recommended plan that you've been doing for the last 14 years, so this is a great opportunity to continue the progress," he said.

AISD trustee Ann Teich said parents throughout the district should be prepared for the changes that will take place in AISD as a result of implementing the state law in all its schools.

"It is going to take a village just to figure all of this out," she said.