Indiana high school students would have to earn a diploma, show they are college- and career-ready and complete applied learning experiences to graduate, under a proposal from a state panel.

As currently presented, passing a statewide graduation test or end-of-course assessment would no longer be required.

The graduating class of 2022 (freshmen in 2018-19) would have to satisfy all three requirements under the latest, Oct. 17 draft proposal from the Graduation Pathways Panel, which has been meeting for the past several months.

New Indiana high school graduation rules proposed

Karen Goeller, Vigo County School Corp. deputy superintendent

Once recommendations are finalized, they will go to the State Board of Education for review and action, potentially in December.

“Indiana is about to make real changes in its high school graduation requirements — changes that will affect all high-school students for years to come — and almost no one is watching,” according to an Oct. 23 School Matters online article.

Under a new Indiana law passed in 2017, Indiana high school students would have multiple “pathways” to meet graduation requirements, rather than just a single test.

“It’s a big paradigm shift from what we’ve been accustomed to,” said Dave Chapman, superintendent of South Vermillion School Corp.

While it’s still a draft and not a final recommendation, he views it as a positive change. Not all students can pass statewide, standardized tests, and not all are college-bound.

“I think the goal is to make sure we’re proving opportunities for all students,” Chapman said.

In addition to a high school diploma, students would have several options, or pathways, to meet the college and career ready component, which include one of the following: an honors diploma; ACT or SAT; College Level Exam Program [CLEP]; and ASVAB or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

Other college and career ready options include: state and industry recognized credential; apprenticeships; career-technical education concentrator [must earn a C or higher in all courses]; three Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit courses [must earn a C or higher in all courses].

Yet another option would be a locally created pathway requiring state Board of Education approval. “We want to create space for schools to innovate,” said Byron Ernest, who chairs the panel and is a member of the state Board of Education.

The third requirement would be applied learning experiences, which could be project based, service based or work based. It could occur over the course of a student’s high school career. Examples include “at least 20 hours of meaningful service learning or civic engagement experiences,” obtaining leadership skills through extracurricular activities, an internship or work-based experience; or an after-school job.

New Indiana high school graduation rules proposed

Byron Ernest chairs the state’s Graduation Pathways Panel.

Applied learning experiences would have to be validated through a student portfolio, school evaluation and an employer/third-party evaluation.

Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public instruction, has raised concerns that not all students will have access to all pathway options, and some of the options carry a pricetag, such as the SAT or ACT.

“Much discussion is still needed and we are very concerned about access, costs, implementation, and student opportunity impact,” said Adam Baker, DOE press secretary. “As a panel, we need to discuss the potential constraints and consequences in order to develop the best plan.”

Preparing for ‘the journey’

The 14-member Graduation Pathways Panel has been meeting since August and its next meeting is Nov. 7 in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Library, History Reference Room 211, 315 West Ohio St.

The Oct. 17 draft “is not necessarily what will go to the state board,” said Ernest, the panel’s chairman. “That’s where the panel is right now in its discussions.”

Ernest said the panel’s charge is to come up with “the best pathways for graduation for students ... to make sure they are ready for whatever post-secondary journey they decide to take.”

That post-secondary journey can be many things: a four-year or two-year college, trade school, the workforce, military, or a pursuing a career first and then college.

“The idea is how do we have our students best prepared for what is going to transpire in their life,” Ernest said.

One goal is to “eliminate this stigma” sometimes associated with certain career/technical education pathways. Ernest gave the example of welding. “In a lot of cases, that welder may be making more [money] than a lot of students that end up with four-year degrees,” he said.

The panel was created as the result of House Bill 1003 passed in the last session of the General Assembly. It called for the State Board of Education to establish graduation pathway requirements, creating more options for students to show they are ready to exit high school. The intent was to move from relying on one measure to multiple measures to graduate.

Testing “has been a big area of discussion,” Ernest said, and under the Oct. 17 draft, passing a standardized test or end-of-course assessment would not be required to earn diploma. Nor would it be one of the options in meeting graduation pathway requirements.

End-of-course assessments would instead serve as final exams for Algebra I, English 10 and biology, under the Oct. 17 draft.

The panel has concerns about students who don’t pass the test and must continue to re-take the test as well as remedial classes, Ernest said. Their time may be better spent taking other classes and programs that prepare them for careers or other post-secondary options.

“I believe there is value in those tests and we certainly have to keep giving them for our accountability system, but I want to make sure our students and teachers have time to do the things that really matter to make sure students are prepared” for life after high school, he said.

The process is moving quickly. The panel will meet again from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 7 to make adjustments and improvements that consider public feedback. That afternoon, the panel will meet with the state Board of Education in a joint work session.

There will be another joint work session on Dec. 5, and the Graduation Pathways Panel is scheduled to present its final recommendation to the state Board of Education at its Dec. 6 meeting, where the state board could vote on it.

Ernest believes the overall framework is close, although there are details yet to be worked out, such as cutoff scores for SAT/ACT tests.

Room for improvement

Karen Goeller, Vigo County School Corp. deputy superintendent, had several questions and concerns after seeing the Oct. 17 draft.

“Although the intent of the graduation pathways model, to create an educated and talented workforce, is a commendable one, it is equally important to consider potential consequences” of the draft proposal, she said.

Currently, passing end-of-course assessments [ECA] is an option for students to show they are ready to graduate. They demonstrate mastery of English/language arts and math standards that are written at college and career readiness levels, she said.

Under the Oct. 17 draft, those assessments are no longer listed as one of the options, and the proposal adds more requirements: high school diploma, college and career ready competencies, and applied learning experiences.

Another concern, she said, is that the college and career-ready options have increased limitations for students. “For instance, a senior who is on track to graduate and does not earn a C in his last dual credit course or career technical education concentrator course may not earn a high school diploma,” she said. Many students take dual credit courses in their senior year and are unaccustomed to the new grade requirement.

In addition, the college and career-ready options pose some access issues, including associated costs such as for the SAT or ACT. Some districts may be limited in the dual credit or career-technical education courses they can offer, Goeller said.

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, has attended pathway panel meetings and provided feedback. “We’re glad for the concept of providing multiple pathways for kids to be diploma-eligible,” he said. Right now, there is one pathway, in which students must pass a test to get a diploma.

IASP would still like to see students who earn required credits and pass end-of-course assessments to receive a diploma, Bess said. Without it, he’s concerned some students would not graduate, such as those who may not meet the minimum SAT score or don’t get all the credits needed for the Advanced Placement or dual credit option.

For those who can’t pass the end-of-course tests, they could then pursue other pathways to graduate.

Bess also believes that some of the applied learning experiences could be combined with related coursework to add pathway options.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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