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Golden State Seal Merit Diploma FAQs

Frequently asked questions for the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma.
What is the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma (GSSMD)?

Assembly Bill 3488, approved in July 1996, called for the development of the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma (GSSMD) to recognize public school graduates who have demonstrated their mastery of the high school curriculum in at least six subject areas, four of which are English language arts, mathematics, science, and U.S. history, with the remaining two subject areas selected by the student. The GSSMD is awarded jointly by the State Board of Education (SBE) and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI).

Is the awarding of the GSSMD mandatory?

Yes. Each local educational agency (LEA) that confers high school diplomas is required per California Education Code (EC) sections 51450–55 to maintain appropriate records in order to annually identify students who have earned a GSSMD and to affix the GSSMD insignia (seal) to the diploma and transcript of each qualifying student.

How many students receive the GSSMD annually?

Approximately 100,000 students are awarded the GSSMD seal each year. In 2017, a total of 103,455 graduating seniors from 1,287 schools were awarded the GSSMD. A total of 412 LEAs that award diplomas notified the California Department of Education (CDE) of the number of qualifying students and schools by requesting GSSMD seals for their graduates.

How do students now qualify for the GSSMD?

The SBE determines and adopts, on the basis of the SSPI’s recommendations, the means by which students may demonstrate mastery of the high school curriculum to be awarded the GSSMD. In January 2016, the SBE designated new GSSMD eligibility requirements that include a combination of qualifying Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment results, course grades, and/or results from assessments produced by private providers or LEAs for use by LEAs to award the GSSMD to students who are graduating. Those requirements will be in effect until updates are made. Any future recommendation the SSPI may make to the SBE regarding modifying the GSSMD eligibility requirements will be presented to the SBE and posted for the public as an agenda item at a regularly scheduled SBE meeting.

Detailed eligibility requirements are available on the CDE GSSMD Web page.

Which courses and/or assessments would qualify for “other two subject areas?”

The intent is for the course and grade, or examination and score, to signify to the LEA that the student has mastered the high school subject area completed or assessed. The LEA will not be required to report the other subject criteria selected for use by the LEA to the CDE.

What are the business rules for determining the grade mentioned?

LEAs should use the same course grade rules they used to determine the student’s eligibility to be awarded a high school diploma.

What will eligible students receive?

For each eligible senior, school districts and charter schools will receive two GSSMD seals: (1) a gold, embossed seal to be affixed to the student’s high school diploma; and (2) a black-and-white seal to be affixed to the student’s transcript (EC section 51453[b]).

Do students apply for the GSSMD?

Individual students do not apply to the state for the GSSMD; rather, school districts and charter schools are required to identify eligible graduates and submit the Golden State Seal Request Form to the CDE.

How do school districts and charter schools identify students and obtain seals?

The CDE provides materials to assist school districts and charter schools. Those materials, which include the Golden State Seal Request Form, are available on the CDE GSSMD Web page.

After verifying that students have met all eligibility requirements, the district or charter school then completes and submits the Golden State Seal Request Form to the CDE. The form must be signed by the district superintendent or charter school administrator, as appropriate. On receipt, the gold seal must be affixed to the student’s high school diploma, and the black-and-white seal must be affixed to the student’s transcript (EC section 51453 [b]).

When is the deadline for submitting the Golden State Seal Request Form to the CDE?

There is no deadline for submitting the Golden State Seal Request Form to the CDE; however, the form should be sent far enough in advance of the first graduation ceremony date in the district to allow enough time for the CDE to process the request and for school staff to place the seals on the diplomas and transcripts. Districts should receive seals within two weeks from the date CDE receives the request. The CDE will begin mailing requested seals for current-year recipients in April.

Do school districts and charter schools need to send student records to the CDE?

No. In order to maintain student privacy, individual student information is not to be sent to the CDE. School districts and charter schools are to maintain the individual student information used to verify GSSMD eligibility. The only document to be submitted to the CDE is the Golden State Seal Request Form, which indicates the schools and number of eligible students per school.

May school districts and charter schools request seals for eligible graduates from previous years?

Yes. To request the seals, complete and submit a Golden State Seal Request Form with the “Graduation Year” section showing the appropriate year of graduation. The “Graduation Date” section may be left blank. The form must be signed by the district superintendent or charter school administrator. LEAs must certify that the previous graduates met the eligibility criteria that were in place for that specific graduating class.

Must a student receive the required grade or higher in both semesters of a single course?

Yes. The intent is that the student demonstrate a mastery of the subject during both semesters (i.e., the student received a qualifying grade during both semesters), not just a portion of the curriculum for that subject. This applies to all grades used for qualifying GSSMD subjects.

With AP courses, students received an honors “bump”; a B in an AP course is actually an A. If a student earns a C or C+, would that student meet the grade criteria for the GSSMD because, technically, it would be equivalent to a B or B+?

Nothing prohibits an LEA from making allowances for grade disparities between standard courses and AP courses. The numerical calculation an LEA uses is at its own discretion. The intent of GSSMD eligibility is a grade or score that would demonstrate “mastery of the high school curriculum” in that subject. If the AP curriculum and/or grading system is set at a more rigorous level than the standard course in that subject, calculating a numerical equivalent to the standard course grade for AP grades is certainly appropriate.

Does the term “In a single course completed” mean the whole year, or are we talking about a semester?

The intent is to demonstrate mastery of the full course curriculum in that subject area—not a portion or single semester.

May LEAs use the California Standards Test (CST) for Science scores toward GSSMD eligibility?

No. The CST for Science, previously administered in grade ten, was never an approved CST for use toward GSSMD eligibility.

Questions:   Alicia Aguirre | gssmd@cde.ca.gov | 916-445-9449
Last Reviewed: Friday, February 2, 2018
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