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Different diplomas aim to meet different needs

This year I started hearing all these questions about different types of diplomas. What is the Medford diploma versus the Oregon diploma? What is a modified diploma?

— Katy

Amid all the different diploma options offered in Jackson County school districts, Katy, the most important one to remember might be the Oregon diploma. That is, after all, the standard that remains equal across the state.

High school students in Oregon must earn a total 24 credits, including four English language arts and three math credits, to graduate from their high school with an Oregon diploma.

The state counted 34,647 students last year who did that successfully. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story.

Medford, Ashland, Eagle Point — they and other school districts offer their own take on diplomas, which include added requirements. That looks different in each district.

Earning a Medford School District Standard Diploma, for example, requires completion of a senior project. At Eagle Point High School, an extra elective credit is required, according to the school’s website. Ashland High School’s website shows a 50-credit requirement to graduate: double the math and English language arts credits required for the Oregon diploma, double the electives, and other elevated requirements.

It used to be possible for districts to only offer a more rigorous diploma than the Oregon standard, if they chose to. But with the passage of House Bill 3267 in 2017, districts and public charter schools were required to grant waivers to students in certain groups: foster children, children legally defined as homeless, children of military families, migrant families and students enrolled in a Youth Corrections Education Program.

That doesn’t mean those students never complete their district’s requirements. It just means they can’t be forced to drop out if they can’t complete a senior project, for example. And that can be a hard requirement to meet, said Dr. Brian Shumate, superintendent of Medford School District.

“If you really do a good senior project, a high quality senior project, I think that it takes some family support,” Shumate said. “Parents have to help get you to places, they have to buy you stuff. When kids don’t have family support, it’s hard to get one done.”

Even so, he said, the district tries to support students so that they can complete the Medford diploma. Medford officials value the senior project for the real-world experience it can offer students — for some, it’s something they can put on a resume, for example.

But Oregon four-year and five-year graduation data don’t take all that difference into account. So long as a student completes Oregon diploma requirements, that’s what the state is concerned with.

Modified diplomas are noted differently, but still contribute to the overall rate of graduates.

They are an option for students who have a “documented history of inability to maintain grade level achievement due to significant learning and instructional barriers, or students who have a documented medical condition that creates a barrier to achievement,” according to state guidance.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

This year I started hearing all these questions about different types of diplomas. What is the Medford diploma versus the Oregon diploma? What is a modified diploma?