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Graduating from high school could get more complicated in Indiana, and some fear equity is taking a back seat

The discussions out of the graduation pathway committee have been illustrated by several graphic artists.
The discussions out of the graduation pathway committee have been illustrated by several graphic artists.
Shaina Cavazos

Indiana is one step closer to a new, more complex system of high school graduation requirements that go beyond what’s already required for a diploma.

A draft of recommendations from the state committee charged with coming up with these new “graduation pathways” include adding “career awareness and exploration” in grades three through eight, among a number of other possible tests and activities.

The pathways would replace current rules that say all high school students must pass state English and math tests to graduate.

“The goal for this panel is 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 postsecondary endeavors,” the draft says.

The panel’s draft recommendations bear a striking resemblance to the original test-heavy pathways set out in the law (page 27), said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. After eight meetings and many hours of discussion, McCormick said she’d have liked to see more innovative work by now.

“Really if you look at the list it came back down to exactly how the law was written,” McCormick said. “We are having a discussion about our current graduation pathway, a lot of things that are already in our accountability system … We’ve laid it out differently, we’ve packaged it differently, but the contents don’t look a whole lot different.”

Here are potential pathway options the panel has outlined so far. A student would need to complete all diploma requirements as well as at least three of the following:

Potential Indiana graduation pathways

Pathway General requirements Honors requirements
Applied learning work-, project-, or service-based learning experience measured by a portfolio of student work, a school evaluation or an employer evaluation Same as general requirements
Tests (end-of-course assessments plus one of the following) A score of 22 on the ACT, 1010 on the SAT or 35 on the ASVAB A score of 26 on the ACT, 1250 on the SAT or 75 on the ASVAB
Career credentials 6 career and technical education credits in a particular area 6 career and technical education credits in a particular area or completing an industry-recognized credential
College credits 6 transcripted credits 9 transcripted credits, including at least 3 from AP or IB exams
GPA 2.5 GPA or higher 3.0 GPA or higher

During the panel’s meeting, McCormick said she worried that the pathways would include options that not all students had access to.

The Indiana State Board of Education’s legal staff brushed of her concern, as did several committee members.

“Indiana’s Constitution doesn’t require we afford equal access to all pathways to all students,” said Chad Ranney, the state board’s deputy general counsel.

McCormick was undeterred. When that inequity exists for a milestone as big as graduation, she said, it’s a problem regardless of what the law says.

“Legal doesn’t make it correct,” she said.

Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican on the panel and chairman of the House Education Committee, said the recently passed “course access program” could help mitigate such disparities. The program would allow districts to pay for classes from a yet-to-be-created menu of online or third-party education providers.

The final pathways would replace Indiana’s current graduation test — end-of-course exams in English and math — that all students must pass to receive their diploma unless they are granted a waiver. But the exams themselves aren’t necessarily going anywhere.

The federal government requires that high school students take state tests in English, math and science. In Indiana, those high school tests will likely be end-of-course exams under the ILEARN system, which goes into effect in 2019. Currently, high schoolers must take a 10th-grade ISTEP test.

Graduation waivers would be granted to students who can’t meet enough of the above pathway requirements. Instead, they’d have to show they were accepted to either post-secondary school, a job training program, the military or hired for a job. Now, students can get waivers for passing state tests if they have earned a C average in that subject, secured teacher and principal recommendations and met several other criteria.

In addition to career exploration, the draft recommends that students would also have to — regardless of pathway — demonstrate they have certain “employability skills” such as the ability to communicate, work with others and be punctual. To do that, students would either need 20 hours of community service or “civic engagement experience,” be a leader in a school activity, complete an internship or apprenticeship, earn a “work ethic certificate” from the state, or work at an after-school job.

The panel is set to meet twice more before offering final recommendations to the state board in December.

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