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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.

In a surprise move, a state panel pushes using a college entrance exam as Indiana’s high school test

Today’s seventh-graders might be required to take college entrance exams in high school, instead of end-of-course tests, to fulfill the state’s obligation to assess schools.

The proposal, suggested by Indiana House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, was a surprise to some members of a state committee that met Tuesday to put together final recommendations for changes to the state’s graduation requirements. Despite concerns about limited ability to review and discuss the proposal, the committee adopted it as part of its larger package.

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

Behning made the proposal in response to feedback the committee received from educators, who strongly opposed keeping end-of-course exams as a graduation requirement. If the exams no longer count for graduation, their only purpose is state accountability — a pretty abstract incentive for students to do well.

Given that, Behning thought it made sense to make the accountability test something like the ACT or SAT that has clear value to students heading to college. Students would still have to meet the requirements of the new graduation pathways system to earn a diploma.

If adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education and the legislature, the college entrance exam proposal would likely take effect in 2021-2022 for high school juniors, who typically take such tests. The new graduation pathways system would go into effect for the graduating class of 2023, today’s eighth graders. The state would still need to work out the details of the transition.

Although State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick also said she supported the switch to college entrance exams, she had concerns about how the state would pay for them for every student and how eliminating year-end subject tests would change work already underway on ILEARN, the state’s new testing system.

Some committee members, including McCormick, were concerned that such a drastic change was proposed with little advance notice. Today was the committee’s last scheduled meeting, yet the testing proposal was not explicitly discussed in prior meetings or included in previous drafts of recommendations.

“This was a curveball to me,” said John Elcesser, executive director for the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, who voted no on the recommendations. “To say that in an hour we’re changing something that significant.”

But the idea itself isn’t new. As the state has changed tests numerous times over the past few years, the idea of using an SAT or ACT has come up. Proponents like that scores from Indiana students could be compared with students across the country and that it saves the state the cost of creating a proprietary exam. But critics say the test was never intended to be used as graduation exam, and it would have to undergo review and adjustments to align with Indiana’s academic standards.

The test proposal was just one part of a complicated set of recommendations the committee sent to the state board today for what students in the class of 2023 need to do to graduate from high school. The new pathways would take effect for current eighth-graders, but schools could opt-in to the new pathways earlier — and again, it’s not yet clear what that would look like or who would pay for it.

The full proposal — developed over the past few months — still didn’t satisfy the concerns of educators across the state.

Today and at last week’s state board meeting, teachers and administrators said the proposed graduation requirements would be labor-intensive and expensive to implement, are too test-focused and could leave out students who are not college-bound or those with special needs.

“Tests in the pathways are good, but they are only one way for students to access a quality education,” said Fort Wayne Superintendent Wendy Robinson. “(It will) take time to implement, time to plan, time to train and time to fund or find funding.”

Under the proposed recommendations, students would have three areas whose requirements they must complete to graduate:

Potential Indiana graduation pathways

Pathway requirementsPathway options
High school diplomaMeet the requirements of Indiana’s high school diplomas
Show employability skills (complete at least one of the options through locally developed programs)— Project-based learning experience
— Service-based learning experience
— Work-based learning experience
Show postsecondary readiness (complete at least one of the options)— Meet all requirements of an Indiana Academic of Technical Honors Diploma
— Meet the “college-ready benchmarks” for the ACT or SAT
— Earn a score of 31 or higher on the ASVAB
— Earn a state- and industry-recognized credential or certification
— Complete a state-, federal- or industry-recognized apprenticeship
— Earn a C average or better in at least 6 high school credits in a career and technical education sequence
— Earn a C average or better in three AP, IB, CLEP, Cambridge International or dual credit courses. At least one course must be in a core content area
— Complete requirements of a locally created pathway that is approved by the state board

The graduation requirement changes were mandated by lawmakers earlier this year. They asked the state board to form a committee to develop better ways to determine if students are ready for life after high school.

The recommendations are expected to head to the state board for approval at its December meeting, but the committee said it would continue to meet to discuss certain topics, including testing and diploma changes. It’s also possible the state vote is delayed — officials wouldn’t confirm a vote would happen.

Board member Steve Yager said last week he is worried the committee is moving too quickly on the recommendations as a whole to properly incorporate feedback from educators.

“I still can’t understand what the rush is,” Yager said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to rush and push that through and cause consternation and distrust” from educators and parents.

But other board members argued the recommendations need to be approved soon so that the legislature can include them in bills when the session starts in January. Lawmakers would need to approve any changes to testing, accountability or diplomas.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

McCormick said the state board needs to keep focused on what it is ultimately trying to accomplish with the pathway system, especially as schools grapple with how to implement such complicated plans.

“Are we playing a game or are we changing things?” she said. “We’re impacting generations of kids.”