Editorial: Amend Path to Advanced Diploma

From the time we chose courses for the 8th grade, many Marshall students will remember being strongly encouraged by our counselors to pursue an advanced diploma. One of the biggest obstacles, however, to graduating with the advanced diploma is the obsolete requirement to take foreign language.

The Virginia General Assembly’s HB340 would have removed that out-dated requirement by establishing alternative pathways for earning an advanced studies high school diploma by completing coursework in career and technical education in lieu of the foreign language requirement. In other words, it would allow students to take two different routes for achieving an advanced studies diploma: taking Career & Technical Education classes (CTE), or taking a foreign language. The bill would also have allowed students to get the best of both worlds by allowing them access to both the CTE and the foreign language advanced diploma if they so desired.

Graduating with an advanced diploma is the norm at Marshall. According to the Virginia Department of Education, 66% of the graduating class of 2021 was awarded an advanced diploma, compared to the 53% average across Virginia. But the foreign language requirement is a one size fits all approach that doesn’t recognize the individual skills of each student. A mere 9% of Marshall students with disabilities graduated with an advanced diploma last year, compared to 19% of students with disabilities across FCPS. Marshall also falls behind FCPS in advanced diploma attainment among economically disadvantaged students, defined as a student whose family is eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

Students with other skills such as CTE are just as deserving of an advanced studies diploma as their peers who do take foreign language for years; as long as they take the same number of courses and earn the same number of credits. Students with other skills and interests that don’t require knowledge of a foreign language ought to be given other pipelines to earning an advanced studies diploma. 

Unfortunately, special interest groups were able to lobby against the bill and kill it in a senate committee, despite it passing the House of Delegates with bipartisan support. Those groups grossly misstated the facts of the bill, saying on multiple occasions that the bill would end foreign language instruction in Virginia schools. That’s hogwash; this bill was about recognizing that students have different needs, and a well-intended attempt to lift up both foreign language and CTE. It’s sad that these lobbyists in Richmond view this as a zero sum game where CTE has to lose in order for foreign language to win, and it’s a shame that our legislature killed this bipartisan measure.