In the Classroom

Indiana's high school diplomas are about to get an overhaul

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.

Indiana could soon offer fewer high school diplomas types, but the move is aimed at creating broader opportunities for students looking to prepare for college or jobs.

Students starting high school in 2018 would have three diploma options instead of four under a plan presented Monday — a “college and career ready” diploma, an “honors” diploma and a “workforce ready diploma.” Currently there are four diploma options: general, Core 40, Core 40 honors and career and technical honors diplomas.

The proposed new options are intended to be simpler.

Teresa Lubbers, the head of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education told the Indiana Career Council on Monday that she and others on a committee tasked with the project want to make sure students seeking any diploma experience as high a level of academic challenge as possible.

“The goal was really to ensure college and career readiness and academic rigor with the diplomas going forward,” Lubbers said. “I actually lost track of the number of drafts. It has to exceed 50.”

The process of changing the diplomas is far from over. The career council, Commission for Higher Education, education department and Indiana State Board of Education all must still sign off. Plus, the original diploma subcommittee will make a presentation before lawmakers later this summer.

The proposed new diplomas won’t look completely unfamiliar to Hoosier students and parents. The differences lie mainly in how the programs are structured, with some changes to credits and courses required.

For example, to earn the new diplomas, all students would be required to take a personal finance class and an introduction to college and careers class.

But essentially, the categories would serve the same purposes — a diploma for students going directly to jobs with no plans for college, one for students who do want to pursue higher education and an honors diploma.

Click on the tabs below to compare Indiana’s current and proposed new diplomas. You can see more details of both current and new diplomas on the education department’s website.

College and Career Ready diploma

Replacing Indiana’s Core 40 diploma is the College and Career Ready diploma. It would require students to take more core classes, especially in math and science. It also would allow students to specialize in an interest area — what it’s calling a “sequence.” That could be classes in fine arts, for example, career and technical education or many more.

Core 40 Diploma

  • English: 8 credits, including literature, composition and speech
  • Math: 6 credits, including Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II
  • Science: 6 credits, including Biology, Chemistry and Physics
  • Social Studies: 6 credits, including U.S. History, U.S. Government, Economics and World History
  • Directed Electives: 5 credits in either a world language, find arts or career and technical education
  • Health and Wellness: 3 credits
  • Electives: 6 credits

Total: 40 credits

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said this would be the default track for all students as they enter high school.

“Everybody is going to start out with the college and career ready diploma,” Ritz said. “That’s where we want kids to be.”

Indiana Honors diploma

Students looking for a greater challenge could take on the Indiana Honors diploma, which is a simplified version of the previous honors program that separated academic and career and technical honors. Students could still choose advanced classes in both areas, but general requirements, such as GPA and total number of credits, would remain the same.

Core 40 Honors diplomas

All the requirements of the Core 40 diploma, plus:

Additional requirements for academic honors 

  • Math: 2 credits
  • World Language: 6 to 8 credits
  • Fine arts: 2 credits
  • Grades of C or better
  • At least a 3.0 GPA

One of the following:

  • Earn 4 credits in two or more Advanced Placement classes along with exams
  • Earn 6 college credits
  • Earn two of the following: 3 college credit courses, 2 credits in AP courses with exams, 2 credits in International Baccalaureate courses with exams
  • Earn at least a 1750 on SAT reading, math and writing sections, with a minimum score of 530 on each.
  • Earn a 26 or higher on the ACT and complete the writing section
  • Earn 4 credits in IB courses along with exams

Additional requirements for technical honors

  • 6 credits in college and career preparation course and either a industry-recognized certification or 6 career pathway college credits
  • Grades of C or better
  • At least a 3.0 GPA

At least one of the following:

  • Any option from the academic honors list
  • On WorkKeys test, reach a level 6 in reading for information, level 6 in applied math, level 5 in locating information
  • On Accuplacer test, score at least 80 in writing, 90 in reading and 75 in math
  • On Compass tests, score at least a 66 in Algebra, 70 in writing and 80 in reading

Total: 47 credits

Workforce Ready diploma

The third proposed diploma option, known as the Workforce Ready diploma, is not meant for a majority of students, Lubbers said. Rather, it is supposed to help students who struggle academically prove to employers that they have finished a well-rounded academic program and have the skills for jobs.

“Close to 90 percent of kids get the college and career ready diploma or honors,” Lubbers said. “So we are talking less than 10 percent there.”

General Diploma

  • English: 8 credits, including literature, composition and speech
  • Math: 4 credits, including Algebra I or integrated math courses
  • Science: 4 credits, including Biology, Physical Science or Earth and Space Science
  • Social Studies: 4 credits, including U.S. History and U.S. Government
  • Health and Wellness: 3 credits
  • College and Career Pathway courses: 6 credits
  • Flex: 5 credits including ones involving workplace learning, dual credit or other academic subjects
  • Electives: 6 credits

Total: 40 credits

Neil Pickett, a council member who works for IU Health, was unsure about the need for a modified general diploma. He said he thought employers might not necessarily be able to see the distinction between that and the college and career ready one.

“You are increasing the rigor pretty significantly,” Pickett said. “I wonder if we ought to just not just encourage people to get the extra credits and have college and career ready degree.”

But Ritz said some students, especially those receiving special education services, will need the modifications. To be eligible for that diploma, students must have their parents and principal sign off, she said.

“You can’t just go on this track,” Ritz said. “But students with special needs, they might make decisions earlier on that. We wanted to make sure the special education students who were on a workforce-ready track were going to actually end up being able to end up in the workforce.”

All changes needed to be finalized by December, Ritz said, so the legislature can have advanced notice of what changes might need to be made to state law for the diplomas to go into effect in 2018.

discipline paradox

Do charter schools suspend students more? It depends on how you look at the data.

PHOTO: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
A student reads on a dotted carpet where students often sit for class at Harlem Success Academy.

A few weeks ago, a government watchdog agency released an extensive report on discipline in U.S. schools. It drew headlines for underscoring how black students, boys, and students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended.

But there was one question that the report helped answer that didn’t get much attention: are charter schools more or less likely to suspend their students?

It’s a fraught topic, particularly as so-called “no-excuses” charter schools across the country have been criticized for what some see as overly harsh discipline. And the answer turns out to be complicated.

Here’s the latest national snapshot, which comes from 2013-14 data. Overall, charter schools have a somewhat higher out-of-school suspension rate — meaning the percent of students who were suspended at least once — than traditional public schools. But when you break down suspensions by students’ race, charters actually post slightly lower rates in each major group.

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection Graphic: Sam Park

How can that be? It happens because charters and traditional public schools don’t have the same share of students in each student group. Charters serve a greater share of black students, for one, and those students are much more likely to be suspended than other groups in both sectors. (Statistics teachers, you can use this as a real-world example of what’s known as Simpson’s paradox.)

These findings highlight how complicated it is to fairly compare suspension rates across schools, and suggest that charter schools may have have similar — even lower — suspension rates than traditional schools, depending on how the data is sliced.

At the same time, some of the most-praised charters, particularly those in the “no-excuses” camp, really have been shown to post high suspension rates, even accounting for differences in student populations.

A 2013 study showed that attending a Boston charter school, often lauded for high test scores, substantially increased the amount of time students were suspended.

And to be clear, the GAO data show that black students at charter schools — and all kinds of schools in the report — still get suspended at a far higher rate than other charter students. Moreover, the report shows that charter schools are more likely to suspend students with disabilities than traditional public schools (12.9 percent vs. 11.6 percent).

Charters reported lower overall rates of in-school suspensions, referrals to law enforcement, expulsions, corporal punishment, and school-related arrests than traditional public schools.

All of this data describes what is happening, but it doesn’t explain why. And the report doesn’t look at other characteristics — like students’ motivation or academic performance — that may be related to their likelihood of being suspended.

Keep in mind that although the data that GAO relies on, the 2013–14 Civil Rights Data Collection out of the U.S. Department of Education, is widely cited, it has important limitations. In particular, some have found evidence in past data collections that schools, including charters, misreported discipline rates.

(The author of the GAO report noted in an email that the department had made efforts to catch data problems by flagging large districts that report zero suspensions. But since charters are usually relatively small, these checks may be less likely to catch errors among charter schools.)

Charter schools are also more likely to deliver instruction entirely through virtual programs, and those cyber charters may be unlikely to suspend students. A more appropriate comparison might be be between brick-and-mortar charters and brick-and-mortar traditional schools, but the data isn’t broken down that way.

This data is notable, in other words, but should be interpreted with caution.

Homework

The Detroit district’s first homework policy is in the works. See how much homework it recommends your child do every night.

Detroit students who are drowning in homework — or unable to complete it because of challenges at home — could soon find relief in a new policy.

The Detroit district on Tuesday proposed putting a cap on the amount of time students in different grade levels spend on homework. Kindergartners would be limited to 10 minutes of homework, while high school juniors and seniors would see their homework load capped at three hours total, across all subjects.

The proposed policy, which a school board subcommittee is now considering, would also prohibit schools from penalizing students who can’t do homework assignments in the allotted time. It would also prohibit teachers from assigning grades on homework assignments and limit how much they can count whether students completed homework to just 10 percent of their final grades.

The policy, which is the new district’s first attempt at a formal homework policy, may address educators’ concerns that a student’s ability to complete homework reflects how much or how little support she receives at home, not her academic abilities. Indeed, some research has suggested that homework can widen performance gaps between students from affluent and low-income families. Research has also found little benefit to homework for young students and diminishing returns for older students after a certain amount of time.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he expects the policy to be welcomed by local families and educators.

“This will be a shift,” he said. “I think for parents this will be well received and for teachers it will be well received.”

But questions are already emerging about how the policy would be implemented — and whether it should be.

“I think that it’s awesome,” board member and former teacher, principal, and superintendent Deborah Hunter-Harvill said. “But is it realistic? I doubt it.”

Because a maximum number of minutes of homework time per night is for all subjects, board member Misha Stallworth questioned whether teachers would need to use more time to coordinate assignments with their colleagues, taking away from their own lesson planning.

District officials are still trying to figure out how to implement and enforce the new time limits, Vitti said.

They might discover that involved parents could be an obstacle. Dana Dacres, a parent of five children attending Burton International Academy, said she spends close to half an hour on homework every night with her kindergartner alone — time that she said is valuable.

“I can see the idea — they don’t want the kids coming home after spending six, seven, or eight hours in the classroom and then having to ‘take your work home with you,’” she said, “but the reality is that some kids need a little bit extra.”

Dacres said she does like that the policy might force students to work more efficiently.

“The idea is to get the work done within the allotted amount of time,” she said. “I like the idea of students becoming good time managers.”

The policies are heard first at the public subcommittee meeting where members can suggest changes. They are then read at a public school board meeting before being voted upon by the full board.

Find the maximum number of minutes of homework per grade below.