STEM Diploma is a Signal of Students’ Readiness for Industry and Higher Education

As representatives of both business and education, we see firsthand that too many Colorado students are leaving our high schools unprepared for Colorado’s jobs and post-secondary institutions.

Despite the growth of technology and engineering jobs in our state – we currently rank third nationally for concentration of high-tech workers – fewer than 25 percent of our high school students are graduating with the post-secondary training and credentials required for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). What’s more, in just three years, more than half of our state’s jobs will need college-educated professionals that are knowledgeable in STEM areas.

The reality is, every one of our students in school today is a STEM student, especially when it comes to understanding the T – technology. After all, when was the last time you saw a teenager without a device of some sort in their hands? Even 2-year-olds know how to navigate an iPhone. Kids in school today are digital natives, and it is long overdue that we recognize this skill set, help our students hone in on it, and clearly display this knowledge and expertise for employers.

While there are certainly pockets of innovative work happening around the state to further our students’ STEM knowledge and soft skills, those efforts are not enough to achieve substantial, sustainable change. We need to look beyond temporary, one-off solutions and instead lay the groundwork for all of our state’s students to demonstrate mastery in subjects that are relevant to their success after high school.

That’s why we developed and championed House Bill 17-1201, which will allow Colorado students to earn a high school diploma endorsement in STEM. Much like a magna cum laude designation recognizes a college graduate who has gone above and beyond the standard graduation requirements, the STEM endorsement would serve as a mark of distinction for high school students who demonstrate mastery in STEM. This provides industry and higher education with a clear and valued signal of students’ STEM knowledge and skills, as well as their ability to further excel in such fields.

The endorsement extends Colorado’s recently revised high school graduation requirements, enabling students to prove their proficiency in STEM-related subjects and concepts, rather than simply getting credit for time spent in their seat. Students obtain the STEM endorsement through four requirements, through their local school district:

  1. Complete the school’s high school graduation requirements at a high level of proficiency,
  2. Complete a coherent sequence of at least four STEM courses,
  3. Achieve a minimum score on one of several specified mathematics assessments, and
  4. Successfully complete a final capstone project that demonstrates a high proficiency level of mastery.

To ensure the STEM courses and capstone projects are aligned with business and industry needs, local school districts will be required to work with STEM employers, as well as higher education institutions, to develop the curriculum and guidelines. After all, businesses and higher education are chief consumers of our K-12 education pipeline, and collaboration between all three is the only way to ensure success for our students.

The legislation also requires school counselors to inform students about this opportunity as early as in middle school. This ensures students have enough time to fully chart and prepare for the courses that will allow them to earn this distinction.

As current and former classroom teachers, we often ask ourselves, “Are we teaching our students what they need to know?” If the answer is no, then we have to rethink our approach. Across Colorado’s entire education system, it’s time to ask ourselves the same question.

House Bill 17-1201 represents an opportunity for the future of Colorado students and Colorado businesses. Rather than allowing our future workforce to be displaced by technology, let’s roll out this new policy and futureproof Colorado’s kids.

Jess Buller, K-8 Principal, West Grand School District #1-JT and policy fellow at Colorado Educator Voice

Elaine Menardi, Education Program Coordinator, Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum and policy fellow at Colorado Educator Voice

Shannon Nicholas, Director of Communications and Programs, Colorado Succeeds. Shannon previously taught high school in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    photo of
    Shannon Nicholas