FILE - Virginia Del. Todd Gilbert

Virginia House speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (left), D-Fairfax, talks with House minority leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, during the House session at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Republicans have criticized the Virginia Department of Education for considering a plan to end advanced high school diplomas because of the lack of racial equity in students receiving the higher tiered diploma.

Current policy allows a Virginia student to earn an advanced degree by earning 26 standard units of credit and five verified units of credit. Standard credits are earned by completing required and elective courses. Verified credits are earned by completing required courses and passing end-of-course Standards of Learning tests or other Board-approved assessments.

The state has three classifications for diplomas: an advanced diploma, a standard diploma and an applied diploma. The advanced diploma has the toughest requirements, followed by standard and then applied. Receiving a higher tier diploma gives students an edge over lower tiered diplomas when applying to colleges because it demonstrates a higher level of competency in the subjects.

However the Virginia Department of Education is considering a plan to consolidate the standard and the advanced diplomas, but leave the applied diplomas the same. The motivation for this potential change is because of racial disparity among those who earn those degrees: Asian and white students earn these diplomas at much higher rates than Hispanic and black students.

“This is about connecting some of our previous discussions and really finding [opportunities] that exist at our key point of intersection, ...which is how and where graduation requirements can operate as a lever for equity,” Leslie Sale, the director of the policy at the Virginia Education Department, said in the Special Committee to Review the Standards of Accreditation.

“So, first, we're going to start with one of our conceptual discussions, which is the possibility of consolidating the standard and advanced studies diploma,” Sale said. “And hopefully this discussion will allow us to think through how we maintain a rigorous academic foundation in a way that's really equitably serving the needs and aspirations of all of Virginia learners."

If the two diplomas were consolidated, Sale said students would complete more generalized courses in their first two years and then focused on more specified classes. The proposals has received opposition from some Republicans, who argue that this would simply lower the commonwealth’s education standards, rather than boost equality.

“Virginians have had enough of the insatiable agenda to eliminate opportunities for students to excel in the quest to achieve mediocrity for all,” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said in a statement. “Equity appears more and more to mean that everyone needs to be equally ill-prepared, rather than have the equality of opportunity for which we should all strive as a society. Lowering standards and expectations is never the right choice when it comes to our children’s future. Lowering the bar isn’t equity, it’s failure.”

The idea is still in its early stages and has not been voted on by the board or within a committee. There is also no timetable for a vote at this time.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.