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The IPS administration is proposing adding more career training programs to high schools.

The IPS administration is proposing adding more career training programs to high schools.

Alan Petersime

Not so fast: State board wants revisions of high school diploma changes

New proposed high school diplomas are on hold.

The Indiana State Board of Education voted to send the proposals to a new committee that will be formed by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz for an overhaul.

There were several stubborn questions that put the brakes on a plan that would have dumped the general diploma, created a new “workforce ready” diploma in it’s place and ramped up requirements for Core 40 and honors diplomas.

But the change that most troubled some board members was the plan to eliminate the general diploma.

That prompted a resolution from board member Steve Yager to ask for clarifications, but in particular he urged state officials to reconsider their recommendation to get rid of the general diploma. The board had been expected to approve the diploma changes today after more than a year of work by a diploma committee chaired by Ritz and Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s Commissioner on Higher Education.

Ritz defended the committee’s work.

“We had already talked about there needed to be more work,” Ritz said. “It’s OK, whichever way we approach things, but the Core 40 subcommittee did its charge ensuring that there’s flexibility within the diploma to actually have pathways for students for their interests and their desires for college or career.”

Every speaker before the state board today, educators and others, supported the delay, and they won quick support from several board members.

P.J. Hamann, with Danville Community Schools, said the diplomas’ additional math requirements would force schools to hire more math teachers, which has been a struggle for some districts across the state.

“There is literally no way for us at Danville to not add staff members,” Hamann said. “If you compare math to English, we have more English teachers than we do math teachers at our school, and that’s because English is required for four years. When you make the same requirement in math, you have to do the same thing.”

Some also mentioned confusion over a new part of the diplomas: a six-credit “focus area” that is supposed to allow students to choose classes based on what they want to study in college or pursue as a career. But it’s not clear which classes would count in that focus area or how exactly it would work.

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he thinks the focus area requirement actually narrows options for students and isn’t practical for all kids, especially those who might not know what they want to do after high school or have to hold down jobs that might take up elective credits.

“We’re talking about 14- and 15-year-olds, not just kids that are wizened and have a great career path set before them,” Bess said. “We also have to think back to our high school days. We were participating in extracurricular activities, and we were working, and we can debate the merits of those things, but that’s the reality.”

Paul Ash told the board kids in special education need more diploma options, too. Without the general diploma, a certificate of completion might be their only option, but that credential has no academic requirements. It only shows a student attended class, and that is not enough to help them get jobs, he said. Because not all districts are required to offer all diplomas, students who can’t complete a general diploma just have the option of the certificate.

Typically, the certificate of completion is used by students with severe cognitive disabilities, and only about 1 percent of students in the state will receive it each year.

“A certificate of completion, it is not a credential,” Ash said. “It does not open doors. I believe we do need a standard that is much more function and daily experience-based for students with disabilities.”

The general diploma was to be replaced by a new “workforce ready” diploma that has more credits and math class requirements. Some educators worried that those additional requirements could be barriers for students with special needs who already struggle to complete high school.

In an effort to reduce the use of the certificate of completion by students who have the potential to earn an actual diploma, the diploma committee said Friday it supported the notion that all districts should offer all diplomas — but it would look into the certificate to see how it might be strengthened so employers might more readily accept it.

Another vocal group of educators and community members spoke passionately in favor of requiring fine arts credits for all students. The state’s current academic honors diploma asks students to complete two credits of music, dance, visual arts or similar classes, but the new diplomas don’t include that requirement at all.

Kevin Gerrity, president of the Indiana Music Educators Association, said such classes are beneficial to students’ success both in and beyond high school.

“When you make something an option, it is as good as not including it,” he said.

The revised diplomas must go back to the board for action no later than April 1. Ritz said she doesn’t expect the extra work will push back the expected starting date for the 2018-19 school year.