P. O. BOX 2120
July 3, 1998


TO: Division Superintendents
FROM: Paul D. Stapleton
Superintendent of Public Instruction
SUBJECT: Transmitting the State Board of Education's Guidance Document Re Requests for Additional Graduation Requirements

     The state Board of Education, at its meeting on June 23, 1998, adopted in
final form the guidance document addressing requests from local school boards to
authorize additional graduation requirements and to allocate electives.

LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS, is attached for your reference.  A copy also will be
forwarded to the chairman of your local school board.

Questions regarding the document or the process for making such 
requests should be addressed to Charles Finley.  Mr. Finley can be
reached at (804) 225-2747, or by e-mail to


Attachment:    A hard copy of this memo and its attachments
               will be sent to the superintendent's office.

                     FROM LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS  

                            JUNE 25, 1998


   This document sets forth those elements of information and decision which
   the Virginia Board of Education ("Board") intends to consider in reviewing
   applications from local school divisions requesting local additions to the
   statewide credits for graduation set forth in the Standards of 
   Accreditation.   It also provides information and guidance of general
   applicability to the staff and the public to interpret and implement 
   the SOA provisions on graduation credit requirements. 

  Statutory and Regulatory Background:     

   The Standards of Quality ("SOQ"), which are statutory, state in
   pertinent part:

   Each local school board shall award diplomas to all secondary school 
   students who earn the units of credit prescribed by the [Virginia] 
   Board of Education and meet such other requirements as may be
   prescribed by the local school board and approved by the [Virginia]
   Board of Education ...   Va. Code 22.1-253.13:4.C (emphasis added).

   The Standards of Accreditation ("SOA"), which are regulations 
   authorized by the SOQ and have the force of law, state in pertinent

   To receive a high school diploma, a student shall meet the minimum
   requirements for one of the two diplomas outlined [in the SOA].  These 
   shall be the only requirements for a diploma, except that a local
   school board may prescribe additional requirements for a diploma if
   such requirements have been approved by the [Virginia] Board of
   Education. All additional requirements prescribed by local school
   boards and in effect as of June 30, 1997, are approved to continue 
   through June 30, 1999, without further action by the Board.  8 VAC 
   20-131-50 (emphases added).

   Under the SOA adopted by the Board of Education in September 1997,
   the statewide minimum number of course credits required to receive
   the Standard Diploma is twenty-two (22);  the statewide minimum number
   required to receive the Advanced Studies Diploma is twenty-four (24). 

   The SOA states that the graduation credit requirements for the two 
   types of diplomas authorized in the SOA (Standard and Advanced
   Studies) are minimum requirements.  By its terms, the SOA graduation
   requirements are a floor, not a ceiling. 

   The SOA is consistent with historical practice.  For many years in 
   Virginia, local school divisions have regularly added local graduation credit
   requirements to the statewide minimum requirements.  According to a
   survey recently completed by the Virginia Department of Education,
   currently forty-two (42) local school divisions have additional local
   credit requirements to obtain the Standard Diploma and thirty-five (35) local
   school divisions have additional local credit requirements to obtain
   the Advanced Studies Diploma.

   Clearly, through the basic statute (the SOQ), the General Assembly 
   and Governor have expressed their intent that local school divisions
   shall have some measure of flexibility to go beyond the minimum 
   diploma requirements established by the Board in the SOA. 

   On the other hand, while both the SOQ and the SOA presume that the
   Board will approve some additional local graduation credit 
   requirements, neither statute nor regulation gives local school 
   divisions a blank check to add local credit requirements in whatever
   quantity and in any topic area they wish.   If that had been the
   intent of the General Assembly and Governor, then the law would not
   give the Board the authority to approve local credit requirements.

   In summary, neither the view that the SOA sets forth an absolute
   maximum number of graduation credits, beyond which local school 
   divisions may not go under any circumstances, nor the opposite view
   that local school divisions can prescribe whatever additional local
   credit requirements they wish, is supported by Virginia law or 
   historical practice.   Both the SOQ and the SOA give the Board the
   authority and the duty to consider such local requests, which 
   implicitly includes the authority and duty to approve some, but
   disapprove others.

   The Board intends to act deliberately and cautiously, not arbitrarily,
   in considering such local requests.   The purpose of this document 
   is to give local school divisions, parents, students, and others
   advance notice and general guidance on how the Board will generally
   evaluate such local requests. 

  I.    Local Additional Credits Required for Graduation

   Observations and Considerations:  The Board is most concerned and will
   act most cautiously in evaluating requests from local schools divisions
   for local additions to the Standard Diploma requirements.  The Standard
   Diploma is the basic diploma offered in Virginia public schools. 
   Students who are seeking an Advanced Studies Diploma may fall short
   of its requirements, yet still graduate from high school with a
   Standard Diploma.  However, students who fail to meet the requirements
   for a Standard Diploma will suffer the consequences of obtaining no
   diploma at all.

   Virginia has just embarked on a nationally-recognized, sweeping reform
   initiative that will raise expectations for students, parents, teachers,
   administrators, schools and local school divisions as never before. 
   Many in the public education community stated repeatedly in commenting
   on the new SOA prior to its adoption last year that reforms on such a
   scale should not -- and could not -- be done too hastily and should
   be phased in over many years to give all concerned time to adapt and
   prepare for such fundamental changes.  The Board listened to those 
   comments and responded by adopting a gradual phased-in schedule of
   implementation in which the new SOA will not be entirely in effect 
   until the 2006-2007 school year.  

   Following the same principle, while the Board encourages local efforts
   to raise student expectations and academic standards higher as our
   new reforms are gradually phased in, we believe that local school
   divisions should concentrate on improving student achievement in 
   the core academic disciplines for which the new Standards of Learning
   (SOL) tests are given (passage of which will become a statewide 
   graduation requirement beginning with the Class of 2004), before
   seeking numerous and wide-ranging additional local credit requirements
   for the Standard Diploma.

   The Board is much more willing to give a greater degree of flexibility
   to local school divisions who wish to add local credit requirements
   for the Advanced Studies Diploma, since students who fail to meet its
   requirements can still obtain the Standard Diploma. 

  A.  Standard Diploma


   1.  Generally, the Board will approve requests from local school
       divisions to require up to two additional local credits to obtain
       the Standard Diploma (maximum of 24 required credits).   

       Generally, the Board will approve local requests for additional
       graduation credit requirements in the core discipline areas of the
       Standards of Learning (English, mathematics, science or 
       history/social studies).  

       For example, a local request to add one additional credit
       requirement in history and one in science would generally be
       approved, because that would not exceed a total graduation credit
       requirement of 24 and those credits are in the core disciplines. 

       Requests for additional local credits in disciplines outside the
       core discipline areas will be considered on a case-by-case basis,
       but the Board will proceed cautiously for the reasons outlined
       above.  In evaluating requests for additional local graduation 
       credits outside the core discipline areas, the Board generally
       may consider, among other criteria, a local school division's
       graduation and drop-out rates and its students' performance on
       the SOL tests.

   2.  Generally, if requested by a local school division which has local 
       additional credit requirements that were "grandfathered" until June
       30, 1999 under the SOA provision cited above, the Board will extend
       approval for such local additional credit requirements until
       June 30, 2000. 

  B.   Advanced Studies Diploma


     Generally, the Board will approve requests from local school
     divisions for local additional credits required for the Advanced
     Studies Diploma above the 24 contained in the SOA if the credits 
     are in the discipline areas of English, mathematics, science,
     history/social studies, fine arts (including performing arts) or 
     practical arts (option), or foreign language.  The Board will
     consider credits outside these disciplines on a case-by-case basis. 

  C.  Transfer Students


     Any local school division receiving approval to increase its course
     credit requirements may not deny either the Standard or Advanced
     Studies Diploma to any transfer student who has otherwise met the
     requirements contained in the SOA, if the transfer student can only
     meet the division's requirements by taking a heavier than normal
     course load in any semester, by taking summer school, or by taking
     courses after the time when he or she otherwise would have

  D.  Prospective Application / Advance Notice


     A local school division's additional credit requirements should apply
     only to students who have not yet entered high school at the time the
     additional credits are approved.

  2.  Allocation of Electives

     Observations and Considerations:   Some local school divisions have
     requested that they be allowed to allocate one or more of the SOA's
     elective credits for a prescribed credit, without raising
     the total number of credits required to graduate.

     The current SOA set forth a 22-credit requirement for the Standard
     Diploma, of which 16 are prescribed and 6 are electives.  For the
     Advanced Studies Diploma, the SOA requires 22 prescribed credits 
     and 2 electives, for a total of 24. 

   In reality, however, the vast majority of Virginia students have far
   more opportunity to take electives than those contained in the SOA.  
   Nearly two-thirds (63%) of local school divisions in Virginia are now on
   schedule configurations such as "block" that allow the student to earn
   eight credits per year, for a total opportunity of 32 credits in high
   school, plus any additional high school course credits that may have
   been earned in middle school.

   More than one-fourth (27%) of Virginia local school divisions are on 
   seven-period-day  schedules, enabling the student to earn 28 credits
   in high school, plus credits towards graduation that may have been 
   earned in middle school.  One-tenth (10%) of local school divisions
   are on six-period-day schedules, enabling the student to earn 24 
   credits, plus credits towards graduation that may have been earned
   in middle school.

   A student pursuing a Standard Diploma in a local school division on a
   block schedule has the opportunity to earn 32 credits in high school
   (plus credits earned in middle school), of which 16 are prescribed 
   in the SOA and the rest are electives.  While students in local school
   divisions on seven or six-period daily schedules have less opportunity
   for electives than the students in block schedules, nonetheless the 
   Board believes there is ample room to allow local school divisions
   to allocate some elective credits as prescribed credits and still
   allow reasonable opportunity for student choice of other


   1.  Generally, the Board will approve requests from local school
       divisions to allocate elective credits for local prescribed course
       requirements, while reducing the number of electives by an equal
       amount so that the total number of graduation credit requirements 
       remains unchanged. 

       For the Standard Diploma,  generally the Board will approve
       allocations of electives to prescribed credits in the core 
       discipline areas of English, mathematics, science, or 
       history/social studies.  Requests to allocate electives for 
       prescribed credits outside of the core disciplines 
       will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

       For the Advanced Studies Diploma, generally the Board will approve
       allocations of electives to prescribed credits in the discipline 
       areas of English, mathematics, science, history/social studies,
       fine arts (including performing arts) or practical arts (option),
       or foreign language.  Requests to allocate electives for prescribed
       credits outside of these disciplines will be considered on a 
       case-by-case basis. 

       Generally, in addition, a local school division may offer, as an 
       option to students, the opportunity to pursue concentrated courses
       of study by taking related courses in a specialty area 
       (for example,vocational education, fine or performing arts), or 
       to choose to take a variety of elective courses.  Offering such
       options shall not require Board approval so long as choosing a
       particular concentration of elective courses is not mandatory for

  3.   Requests for Different Types of Diplomas

       Background and Considerations:  The only two types of diplomas
       authorized in the SOA are the Standard and Advanced Studies 
       Diplomas. The Board does not have the legal authority in the 
       current SOA to create or authorize additional types of diplomas.

       With the creative use of already existing authority to award
       diploma seals, however, including the newly-authorized Vocational
       Education Seal, and through the authority to create optional 
       concentrated areas of study, local school divisions can achieve
       their objectives.


       The Board will not approve the issuance of diplomas other than
       the Standard and Advanced Studies Diplomas. 

  Respectfully submitted to the Board:

  Mark Christie
  Jennifer Byler