UPDATED: Indiana State Board of Education approves new graduation pathways after lengthy public comment asking them to resolve unanswered questions

The Indiana State Board of Education voted 7-4 Wednesday to approve new graduation pathways requirements for Indiana high school students, and many educators are concerned about the many unresolved questions created by the new pathways. (Courtesy of FreeImages)

The Indiana State Board of Education voted 7-4 Wednesday to approve new graduation pathways requirements for Indiana high school students, and many educators are concerned about the many unresolved questions created by the new pathways. (Courtesy of FreeImages)

Educators asked the Indiana State Board of Education during public comment Tuesday and Wednesday to postpone making a decision on new high school graduation pathways until the many unanswered questions can be discussed.

After hours of public comment, however, the board voted 7-4 late Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis to pass the graduation pathways requirements as written.

The “no” votes came from the only kindergarten-grade 12 educators on the board, who included Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction; Steve Yager, a former superintendent of both Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools in suburban Fort Wayne; and Cari Whicker, principal of Southern Wells Elementary School in Wells County.

During last year’s legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly approved creating a Graduation Pathways Panel to establish graduation pathway recommendations that create an “educated and talented workforce” who can succeed in business, college and all “endeavors” after high school.

On Nov. 7, the panel released graduation pathway recommendations that include:

• Instead of a standardized assessment test, such as ISTEP+, that 10th graders have taken in the past to be eligible for graduation, students would have to score at the college-ready level on the SAT, ACT or a similar college entrance exam.

• Students would have to meet three graduation pathway requirements, beginning with the graduating class of 2023: Earn a high school diploma, learn and demonstrate employable skills, and possess post-secondary-ready competency skills.

The new requirements are scheduled to take effect with students graduating in 2023.

To read the final recommendations in full, go to http://www.in.gov/sboe/files/Grad%20Pathways%20-%20Draft%20Pathway%20Recommendations.v6.pdf.

Meeting some of the pathway requirements could impact students’ participation in community-service work and extracurricular activities, such as athletics, McCormick and area educators said during an information meeting held Nov. 17 at Homestead High School. But the recommendations approved Wednesday don’t give details on how to sort that out.

The pathways also don’t spell out, for example, whether the state will pay for students to take the ACT or SAT tests, and whether the state will pay for students who want to retake the test if they fell just short of the score required for graduation.

Many people speaking during the public comment period before the board’s vote Wednesday asked board members to put action on hold so questions can be discussed and answered before the vote rather than approving the recommendations and trying to figure out answers to questions later, said Laura Cain, the Fort Wayne Community Schools’ assistant to the superintendent for strategic initiatives, who attended the state board of education meeting.

Debra Faye Williams-Robbins, FWCS chief officer of family, student and community engagement, made comments at the meeting today. FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson gave the board input during a work session Tuesday.

Williams-Robbins told the board that FWCS already has opportunities for students to earn a diploma requiring rigorous academic achievement, but the district would like to maintain local control over the graduation requirements, Cain said.

Some state board of education members, however, made it clear it wasn’t their job to make decisions about diplomas, but just to improve pathways to graduation, Cain said. Board members said it would be up to the state legislature to make changes to diploma requirements.

The diploma becomes an issue because the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires school districts and states to calculate their high school graduation rates based on the high school diploma earned by the majority of graduates, Cain said. In Indiana, that currently is the Core 40 diploma.

Students who have difficulty meeting all of the requirements of the Core 40 diploma currently also can graduate with a general diploma. If students are forced to leave high school without any diploma, they likely will have trouble applying for jobs and any post-high school education, educators such as Superintendent Chris Himsel of Northwest Allen County Schools have warned.

FWCS really just wants graduation pathways to be understandable and workable, and district officials would like to be involved in the conversation on how to make that happen, said Kathy Friend, the district’s chief financial officer.

STATE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT’S STATEMENT

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick issued this statement Wednesday night on the Indiana State Board of Education’s 7-4 vote to approve new graduation pathways requirements:

“Although disappointed in the vote, I’m extremely proud of our K-12 colleagues. They continue to be tireless advocates for our children and have remained student focused throughout this process. It is clear our Indiana educators are committed to being part of a solution to workforce and higher education concerns. The department (Indiana Department of Education) will continue working with our legislators, concentrating on successful implementation of the Graduation Pathways, and collaborating with all those who work on behalf of our students on a daily basis.”

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