New requirements for seminary graduation are meant to “elevate learning” and better prepare students for lives of service and discipleship. The changes are being implemented throughout the world beginning this school year with this year’s course of study — Doctrine and Covenants and Church History.
“It fits in line with Preach My Gospel, and it fits in line with the Come Follow Me curriculum,” said Wayne Davis, manager of communications for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “We are asking the youth to be more self-sufficient in their testimonies and their knowledge and in their ability to share that knowledge.”
Among the changes are two major elements. In addition to receiving credit based on attendance and an ecclesiastic endorsement from a branch president or bishop, seminary students will be required to read the book of scripture they are studying for the year, as well as pass course-learning assessments.
“We’d like to help [students] elevate [their] learning experience. We want to help [them] become more converted, have more confidence in the scriptures, in [their] ability [to navigate] the scriptures and to be able to use that to bless [their] life,” said Brother Davis.
Leaders are hoping that as students increase their efforts to fulfill new graduation requirements, they will in turn accept greater responsibility for their religious education. It is also a hope that students will become better equipped to answer questions.
“We have always encouraged reading,” Brother Davis said. “It was encouraged, and we have stressed it, but it has never been one of the requirements to graduate. So this next year, they need to read Joseph Smith History and the entire Doctrine and Covenants to receive credit for graduation.”
In addition to that reading, there will be two assessments during the year — one halfway through and another at the end of the academic school year — that the students will need to pass with at least 75 percent.
“It’s a doctrinal understanding — not a lot of dates, names or facts,” Brother Davis said. “They don’t need to get 100 percent [just] demonstrate an understanding of the Doctrine and Covenants and how it fits into the plan and [their] life.”
In no way do they want this to be intimidating or a deterrent for students. Rather, it is an opportunity for them to better learn the scriptures and deepen their understanding of the gospel.
“I know it is hard for students to hear they have to pass an assessment, but we’ll work with them until they do,” Brother Davis said. “We are trying not to send the message that it is a pass/fail test situation. It’s really an opportunity to learn and teach.”
Halfway through the year, instructors will give an assessment on the first half of the Doctrine and Covenants. If there are sections or segments or gaps in what the students have learned, a teacher has the opportunity to talk and go over the assessment with the students. Students may take the assessment again until they pass.
“We want them to go back into the scriptures,” Brother Davis said. “Our goal is that when they finish that semester, they feel like they know what they are talking about. Our intent is to let the students find out what they know and to have the teacher then help them with what they have missed and to have it be a positive, successful thing.”
At the end of every year, 9-12th graders will either receive a certificate of completion, which means they completed the requirements necessary (including the new reading and assessments), or a certificate of recognition, indicating they met the attendance requirements.
“We are not trying to drive anybody away, and so we will still recognize students for coming and participating,” Brother Davis said. “Our goal as teachers is that we don’t lose a single student because of our lack of action or our interest or our welcome.”
Just as before, students who would like to make up missed assignments for completion will be able to do so this year with the additional requirements. Because each student is different — including some with varying challenges and circumstances — accommodations may be necessary to help some students meet expectations.
“We are going to work with them, as we always have to make it work, to be able to help them finish reading, retake those assessments and to do what they need to do to academically qualify.”
Church leaders and Church Educational System instructors hope that as students increase their efforts to fulfill the new requirements, they will be more prepared to stay strong in the gospel and to be able to share what they know — whether it be on a mission, as they head to college, join the work force or as they marry and start a family.
Graduating from seminary should signify that students have participated in a meaningful process toward understanding and relying on the teachings and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualifying for the blessings of the temple and preparing themselves, their families and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.
“I am thrilled with the new seminary graduation requirements, which will require more from our students in the way of reading, effort and learning,” said Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, during a broadcast for seminary and institute instructors on Aug. 5. “We often refer to the scripture that ‘where much is given, much is required.’ I believe that a close corollary to this is that ‘where much is required, much more will be given.’
“In other words, if we expect more of our youth, they will step up to the challenge, and I do believe that we need to require more of them. We need to step up our teaching so that our youth do more on their own to understand the doctrines of Christ and the reality of the Restoration, and we need to find a way to motivate them to write these things on the ‘tablets of their hearts.’ ”
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