Local superintendents weigh in on tougher HS graduation requirements

Graduation Pathways Panel Presentation at Homestead High School.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Indiana high school students may need to do more work to graduate. That’s why more than 130 Hoosier superintendents, educators, and local leaders met in Fort Wayne Friday to figure out what they’re going to do about that proposition.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick led the discussion at Homestead High School along with State Board of Education members Dr. Steve Yager and Cari Whicker.

The Graduation Pathways Panel, a 14-person panel with only two practitioners from traditional K-12 public schools, was established as a result of House Enrolled Act 1003 and was tasked “to establish graduation pathway recommendations that create an educated and talented workforce able not just to meet the needs of business and higher education, but able to succeed in all post-secondary endeavors.”

The panel recommended three graduation “pathways” for students to the state board, each having associated pathway options. First, they’ll have to get their high school diploma. Secondly, they’ll need to participate in a learning experience that demonstrates their employability. Thirdly, they’ll have to take the SAT, ACT, or a comparable benchmark that shows they’re ready for life after high school, or what the panel calls postsecondary-ready competencies.

Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson believes these standards will leave behind struggling students and cause graduation rates to drop.

“None of us are trying to shy away from making sure that all of our kids are educated to the highest possible standard, but we believe that this system that they’re trying to put in place causes more confusion and puts more of our children at risk of not being able to receive the quality education that we want them to,” she said.

She said she and her FWCS colleagues will meet internally to think of constructive suggestions and solutions.

“I think the concept of pathways and having options for student to graduate makes all the sense in the world,” she continued. “This is so complicated at this point that I can’t even describe how kids would make it through the pathways. More than that they are not in any kind of detailed form, plans of how we make sure that every single child makes it through and that’s my objection at this point.”

The panel’s diploma pathway says students would have to meet the statutorily defined diploma credit and curricular requirements.

To demonstrate that they’ve learned employability skills, they must engage in a project-based, service-based, or work-based learning experience through a locally developed program.

To fulfill the postsecondary-ready competency requirement, students must complete at least one of the following: honors diploma; ACT; SAT; ASVAB; state- and industry-recognized credential or certification, state-, federal-, or industry-recognized apprenticeship; career-technical education concentrator; AP/IB/dual credit/Cambridge International course or CLEP exams. For each of these options, the panel has given benchmarks that must be reached to satisfy the pathway.

The recommendations also propose three graduation pathway requirements, all of which must be met by students beginning with the graduation class of 2023.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick says she’s listening closely to educators and is not shying away from their concerns, which include implementation, tracking, cost and impact on struggling learners.

“I think people have a lot of concerns,” she said. “Concepts are good per se, but there are a lot of concerns on how this would work and even if it’s going to move the needle. So I just think there are just a lot of true hesitations out there regarding some of the constraints, but again everybody is willing to improve. Everybody understands rigor, the work force and the higher-ed demands. We are not scared of that. We’re not shying away from it.”

The panel’s changes were introduced to the draft proposal less than a day before the panel voted to send it to the state Board of Education. While parts of the plan had been available for public comment for weeks, few schools, teachers, or families have been able to give input about the exam requirement change.

The State Board of Education is expected to vote on the plan December 6. The Indiana General Assembly would then codify the plan in the 2018 session.