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California to Create High School Diploma Seal for Civics

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Coming soon to California: A new way of recognizing high school students who have mastered civics and government content, via a special seal on those students' diplomas.

The diploma seal will signal students' understanding of the U.S. Constitution, the California Constitution, and the democratic system of government, according to the legislation that created it.

Under the law, the state's superintendent must recommend criteria for awarding the seal to the state board of education by January of 2020. The board then has a year and a month to sign off on those criteria or reject them. Among other things, the law says the state must consider students' completion of history, government, and civics courses, and participation in community service or extracurricular activities. The criteria should be such that all students have an opportunity to meet them and not based primarily on "standard measures of pupil achievement" (read: test scores).

Only one other state, Virginia, appears to offer such recognition to its students, and the California law seems partly modeled on Virginia's, which passed back in 2003.

To earn the recognition in the Old Dominion state, students must maintain a grade of B or higher in their Virginia/U.S. History and Virginia/U.S. Government classes, and complete 50 hours of community service, including by participating in Boy Scouts or similar organizations, junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), political campaigns, or government internships.

With so many students in California, could this start a new trend across states? It's happened before: California is already well known for creating a State Seal of Biliteracy, which recognizes students who are proficient in two or more languages. Twenty-eight states and the district of Columbia now offer some version of that endorsement, according to Californians Together, an advocacy group for English-language learners.

One of the challenges with diploma seals is making sure that they carry some weight with employers or with the state's colleges. I explored that a bit more in my recent story on STEM diploma seals, another initiative that's gathered steam lately.

The California law on civics seals references this by saying that receiving a seal should confer "some benefit to pupils beyond secondary school." 

California's bill was signed into law earlier this month.


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