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Fort Wayne, area educators urged to stand up for students against new proposed graduation requirements

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick responds to a question during a gathering of northern Indiana educators to discuss new Indiana high school graduation requirements proposed by the state Graduation Pathways Panel. The meeting took place Friday afternoon at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)
Steve Yager, right, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education, talks Friday afternoon during a meeting of northern Indiana educators to discuss new Indiana high school graduation requirements proposed by the state Graduation Pathways Panel. More than 100 educators attended the meeting at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)

The Indiana Graduation Pathway Panel’s recommendations for new Indiana high school graduation requirements are vague, confusing and could keep middle-of-the-class students from earning a diploma, and school officials need to stand up against the plan.

That was the message shared by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, state Board of Education member Steve Yager and area school district superintendents and officials during a meeting Friday afternoon at Homestead High School.

“Our voices maybe have not been as loud as they should be,” McCormick told the group.

During its last session, the Indiana legislature set up the 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.

Of the 14 members appointed to the panel, however, only two work in K-12 public education, Yager told the group of more than 100 educators from around northern Indiana.

On Nov. 7, the panel released 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.

Some aspects of the plan were introduced just before the panel approved its recommendations, so educators and parents didn’t have a chance to offer input on them.

The state board of education is scheduled to consider the recommendations at its meeting at 9 a.m. Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. The board also will discuss them during a work session at 1 p.m. Dec. 5.

Yager, a former Southwest Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools superintendent, along with Philip Downs, the current SACS superintendent, urged all of those present to make their voices heard to state board of education members, state legislators and state leaders.

They also called on all of those present to show up for the state board of education meetings Dec. 5-6.

GREATEST IMPACT

Students most likely to be hurt by the proposed graduation requirements would be those who perform in the middle range academically and may have trouble scoring at the college-ready level on the SAT, ACT or other college entrance exams, school officials said.

Many of those students now can earn a general diploma, but that option wouldn’t be available under the proposed graduation requirements, Downs said after the meeting.

McCormick also voiced concern that, unless the state pays for students who want to re-take the SAT or ACT if they didn’t pass, students from lower-income and less supportive families wouldn’t get to take the test again and wouldn’t have a chance to earn a high school diploma.

In addition, some students are gifted in certain areas but don’t do well on tests, and they still need a way to earn a diploma, NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said during the meeting. Without a high school diploma, young people won’t be able to apply for many jobs, he said after the session.

Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson said she showed the proposed graduation requirements to her student advisory group of 26 students. The only aspect that excited them was the opportunity to earn graduation credit for work-based learning.

The students said the rest of the plan would “damage the psyche” of students who have to work really hard to earn a diploma and those who have special needs, Robinson said.

She said educators need to challenge panel members to explain what is wrong with the current graduation system, and then they all can work on how to fix it.

OTHER CONCERNS

Other educators raised questions about the graduation pathway options for the “learn and demonstrate employable skills” requirement, which include the student participating in project-based learning, service-based learning or work-based learning.

This pathway requirement also include athletics as service-based learning, though McCormick and others said the details are so sketchy it is unclear now how that would impact students who want to play sports.

Calling the learn and demonstrate employable skills requirement the “game-playing” requirement, McCormick said the panel provided no guidance on how schools are supposed to track whether students fulfill all of the service or other work they say they have done.

It’s also possible, she said, that some students will find they are a just short of meeting the requirement and will have to rush out and do some quick community service work right before graduation just to meet the requirements.

Other concerns raised at the meeting:

• There Graduation Panel’s recommendations offer no plan for students who change schools during the school year or between grades.

• State leaders seem to be pushing schools to prepare students for high-wage, high-demand jobs, but making change would require finding people with the skills or certification to teach the courses needed for those jobs, which Indiana public schools all would have to do at the same time.

• There are no answers in the plan on how it may impact fine arts and humanities classes.

• Some research suggests the new graduation requirements will lower schools graduation rates, possibly significantly.

FOR PARENTS, STUDENTS

Parents and students concerned about the proposed new graduation requirements should contact their school district superintendent or their child’s school principal or guidance counselor to learn more details about the requirements, said Philip Downs, Southwest Allen County Schools superintendent.

Then parents and students should convey their thoughts to Indiana State Board of Education members, state legislators and state leaders, he said.

• For state board of education information and to contact board members, go to http://www.in.gov/sboe.

• For contact information for state legislators, go to https://iga.in.gov.

• For contact information for Gov. Eric Holcomb, go to http://www.in.gov/gov.

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