Types of Texas High School Diplomas – Distinguished vs. Recommended

Update: This article describes the graduation requirements applicable to students graduating in 2017 or before. For more information on the new Foundation High School graduation requirements, which are applicable to all students matriculating after 2014 and available on an opt-in basis to students graduating in 2015-2017, see our comprehensive guide here.

The Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP) sets the guidelines for earning Texas’s most prestigious public school diploma. The Distinguished diploma goes above and beyond the Recommended Plan diploma and in theory should make your student stand out from other college applicants who have not completed as onerous of requirements.

The requirements outlined in this article are applicable to any student graduating on or before spring of 2017. Incoming freshman for the 2014-15 school year will be on a new plan laid out in House Bill 5 in the Texas legislature, but for all other students, the choice between following the DAP or the Recommended High School Program (RHSP) remains as described below.

Texas graduation requirements for public schools are set by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  Private schools and those choosing to homeschool are not required by law to meet these standards, but they must meet them in order to gain accreditation through the TEA.  Current public high school students in Texas are required to adhere to the RHSP in order to graduate.  

While there is a also a third option–the Minimum High School Plan, which has fewer required course credits and offers more flexibility in choosing graduation plans-in most cases it does not adequately qualify students for admission to most universities and the TEA’s concern that students won’t be admitted to university with only these credits is such that it even requires parental permission to pursue.  

Understanding the Plans

Graduation plans are composed of “credits” and advanced “measures,” with a credit being equivalent to one successfully completed semester of a course, and a measure indicating a completed task under the separate list associated with the DAP.

 

Recommended HS Diploma (RHSP)

Distinguished HS Diploma (DHSP)

English I-IV

English I-IV

4 credits Math (incl Alg 1, 2, and Geo)

4 credits Math (incl Alg 1, 2, and Geo)

4 credits Science (incl Bio, Chem, Physics)

4 credits Science (incl Bio, Chem, Physics)

4 credits (5 courses) Social Studies

4 credits (5 courses) Social Studies

1 credit Physical Education

1 credit Physical Education

2 credits in the same Foreign Language

3 credits in the same Foreign Language

1 credit Fine Arts

1 credit Fine Arts

½ credit Speech (Comm App’s or Professional Comm’s)

½ credit Speech (Comm App’s or Professional Comm’s)

5.5 Elective credits

4.5 Elective credits

26 Total Credits

26 Total Credits

 

As shown in the chart above, the only difference in credits is that students looking to graduate with a Distinguished diploma in Texas are required to earn three credits in the same foreign language, compared to the RHSP’s two credits, and the space for this extra semester is typically pulled from the student’s electives.  In addition to these, the DAP requires students to complete at least three of these four advanced “measures”:

Clearly, the differences in effort between the two plans lay heavily within this last category.  By preparing for the IB and AP exams, students learn to study more effectively.  By successfully finishing the college-level courses, they learn to handle a university-type workload.  Positive results within these categories display proof that a student’s progress within their studies is more advanced than that of their peers.  

The professionally-judged research project challenges them in a similar way: the challenges of this measure can be eye-opening.  Depending on the focus of their research or project, the work can be immense when compared to their average high school assignments.  In addition, this measure can help students adapt to the style of work they’ll be producing in college.  Favorable marks in this category may show dedication and relative mastery of more practical, hands-on academic work, which will of course serve them well at university.  

Importance to the Admissions Process

The effort required to obtain a high school diploma on the Distinguished Academic Plan can be substantial. The work serves as a chance to display talents and abilities (especially when a student chooses to undertake the research option) that aren’t necessarily conveyed through a high G.P.A. within the Recommended High School Plan.  

We spoke to a counselor at an elite HISD magnet school, who says that the plan can serve as motivation, as students who are aware that their peers are planning to graduate on the DAP might naturally feel compelled to do the same.  She agreed that it can equally serve as a sort of starting point or roadmap for families looking to go the extra mile in order to appear desirable to a college admissions board.

The Assistant to the Admissions Director at University of Texas, Laura Lavergne, believes that while the individual achievements involved in obtaining a high school diploma on the DAP can look great on a college application, the certification in and of itself is of little value:

“Many of our applicants aren’t from Texas, and the Distinguished Achievement Plan isn’t required for admission.  Our admissions process is holistic, so each applicant is considered as an individual. It’d be impossible to say whether that [the DAP] might come up, but I think it would be rare.  It might be considered in [the] same way as any activity or courses that go beyond the minimum requirements for high school graduation… especially if the student is applying for admission to a specific major.  If they wanted to apply to our Math department, then having taken those courses or done that work [that earned them the DAP] would be considered.”

Looking Ahead

It’s best to think positively about the conclusions we can draw from these professional opinions.  Organization can be crucial in helping a student to persevere through the challenges of the type of increased workload necessary to stand out amongst other university applicants, and the Distinguished Achievement Plan certainly provides that.  It also provides a starting block to academic excellence and allows a certain amount of flexibility in course scheduling and extracurricular activities, which should be commended.  

The work involved and decisions made say a lot to a college admissions board about your student’s values.  And of course, if your student is already planning to do this level of work while attending high school, there’s no reason they shouldn’t apply for the distinction: it’s the candle on their cake, and they’ve earned the opportunity to hear themselves singled out for it at their graduation ceremony.

While graduation requirements are changing (a topic for another Thesis article), keep in mind that the principle of the DAP speaks for itself: extra effort serves as its own reward, and goes a long way toward impressing an admissions board.  Incoming freshman in the 2014-’15 school year will be on the newly minted “Foundation” High School Plan, and those wishing to graduate on an advanced plan will need to complete a variety of “endorsements,” whose purpose will remain true to the DAP: to provide an opportunity for students to learn, grow, and excel within the framework of a flexible, structured graduation plan.

One Comment

  1. Jordan Crowhurst says:

    Is there a specific legal document stating that Texas private schools or those choosing to homeschool have the right to deviate from the TEA set standards?

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