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.

In the Classroom

How Memphis students came face to face with the painful history in their school’s backyard

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Students at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School examine a historical marker meant to share a more complete story of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

A few yards across from the parking lot of an all-boys Memphis school lies a small, tree-lined courtyard, where a class of eighth-graders studies a large historical marker.

The new marker tells them that children were sold as slaves in this spot. An older, nearby marker had failed to tell the whole story — Nathan Bedford Forrest, the subject of the marker, made Memphis a hub of the slave trade near that busy downtown corner.

The boys at Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School, who are nearly all black, earlier learned about the painful legacy while watching an episode of “America Divided,” a documentary series featuring celebrities exploring inequality across the nation. The episode featured the Memphis campaign that eventually removed a nearby statue of Forrest, a Confederate general, slave trader, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School students visit county commissioners Tami Sawyer and Van Turner (back row), who were key in the city’s campaign to remove Confederate statues.

Being so close to such upsetting history that only recently has bubbled to the surface of public display was a lot for eighth-grader Joseph Jones to take in.

“I can’t believe that this history is right outside our school,” he said. “I think I barely know what happened in Memphis. So many things that I don’t know, that I need to know, and that I want to know, happened in this very city.”

Lately, Memphis — along with several other cities in the South — has been grappling with how tell the complete stories of historical figures who many felt were war heroes, but who also contributed to the enslavement of black Americans.

The new and larger historical marker about Forrest was erected on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. He was killed two miles from the all-boys charter school. City leaders vowed and succeeded in taking down Forrest’s statue, which had loomed downtown for more than 100 years, before honoring King’s legacy.

From the archives: Meet the Memphis educator leading the charge to take down her city’s Confederate monuments

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Teacher Tim Green travels to several schools to teach students how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Tim Green, a teacher at Grizzlies Prep, prompted discussion among students about how to use their newfound knowledge about history in positive ways to improve their city. It’s part of Green’s larger effort to teach students how to express their feelings on difficult topics.

Recently, that has meant delving into the city’s racial history, which is fraught with tragedy that has not been fully reckoned with in public discourse.

“Me forming this class was a way to talk about some of things we deal with and one of those things is our past,” he recently told students. “As African-American men — and African-Americans in general — we don’t have a clear understanding of where we came from.”

Students said their initial feelings after watching the documentary included anger, sadness, and fear.

“It kind of makes me feel scared because you know your parents and your teachers say history repeats itself,” said student Sean Crump. “So, we never know if it’s going to happen again because some things that people said are going to stop have came back. … That makes me feel scared of when I grow up.”

Watching the documentary was the first part of the class’ history exploration before meeting with two key people who organized the removal of Forrest’s statue at the county government building about two blocks from the school.

The documentary shows actor Jussie Smollett interviewing the younger brother of Jesse Lee Bond, a 20-year-old black sharecropper. He was killed in a Memphis suburb in 1939 after asking for a receipt at a store owned by a prominent white family that depended on the credit balances of its black customers.

The brother, Charlie Morris, said he was ready to go on a revengeful rampage after learning his brother had been shot, castrated, dragged by a tractor, and staked to the bottom of a nearby river. He said he still carried the trauma, but doesn’t carry the hate he felt nearly 80 years ago.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Students watch as Charlie Morris, the brother of lynching victim Jesse Lee Bond, explains the racism that led to his brother’s murder in an episode of “America Divided.”

“The first step to equal justice is love. Where there’s no love, you can forget the rest,” he said in the documentary. Morris died in June at the age of 98.

After the episode ended, the class was silent for a moment. The first question from a student: Were the people who lynched Jesse Lee Bond ever convicted?

The answer made one student gasp in shock, but was predictable for anyone familiar with the history of lynching in America during the Jim Crow era that legalized racial segregation. Two men were charged and tried for Bonds’ murder, but were quickly acquitted.

Students seamlessly tied the past to racism and violence they see in their city today.

“I feel sad because there’s lynchings and people — mostly white Americans — they know there’s lynchings and they know what the Confederacy did to cause those,” said student Tristan Ficklen.

“I would have felt the same too because all he asked for was a receipt,” student Jireh Joyner said of Morris’ initial reaction to Bond’s death. “And now these days there’s still police brutality and it’s hurtful.”

In the Classroom

How an Indianapolis district became a national model for teacher leadership

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Amy Peddie, a teacher at Southport High School, helps a student on an assignment in her class.

Kelly Wilber had been teaching in Perry Township for about seven years when the school district rolled out a new approach to teacher evaluation, mentorship, and coaching — and she felt the change almost immediately.

“I felt like I was a good teacher before,” Wilber recalled. “I mean, I studied all the things in the books, and we had professional development.”

But when the district started using the new approach, the TAP System, “we found the answer of what we needed to do to help our students grow,” said Wilber, who teaches fifth grade at Southport Elementary School.

The TAP System was developed as a strategy for improving instruction, and it is popular in Indiana, where state policymakers have encouraged schools to adopt the system. Perry Township has used it for seven years, and the district has become something of a poster child for the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, the group behind TAP. On Thursday, the nonprofit recognized Perry Township schools with the organization’s first National Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness, which came with a $50,000 prize.

TAP relies on mentors and teacher leaders who are paid stipends to coach their colleagues — a tactic that’s becoming popular among schools as a way to allow experienced teachers to take on more responsibility without entirely leaving the classroom. Each week, groups of teachers meet with master teachers who work with them on strategies they can use in the classroom, like how to tackle word problems or use manipulatives in math.

The model also has guidance on common problems teachers encounter. In the first year of TAP, for example, Wilber had a student who said he wasn’t interested in school or homework and told her, “I’m only here because my brother came here, and I like to do what my brother does,” she recalled.

Wilber began trying techniques that TAP recommended, like using his name during model lessons and having him read the learning objectives. Soon, he was raising his hand in class.

“I felt like I knew what I needed to do because we had so much training and support,” Wilber said.

Perry Township has an unusual set of challenges. Nearly three-quarters of students are poor enough to get subsidized meals. About 25 percent of students are English language learners, and many of them are refugees fleeing religious persecution in Burma.

There is not much outside research on whether TAP improves student test scores. A 2012 study of the results in Chicago found that the program did not raise test scores, but it increased teacher retention. TAP’s developer has disputed the validity of the study, saying the TAP program was not properly implemented in Chicago schools.

But in Perry Township, educators say the approach is helping improve student results.

“If you want to make a difference with kids who are in poverty as well as have a lot of cultural differences, this format and this foundation is the best thing that you can utilize,” Superintendent Patrick Mapes said.

Joe Horvath, a master teacher at Southport High School, said his role is the same as coaches in other districts. Instead of having his own classroom, he is in charge of training 28 other teachers. One day a week, he meets with those teachers in groups. The rest of the week, he observes teachers in their classes, gives feedback, and models lessons.

“We are all on the same level,” Horvath said. “It’s not like I am their boss in any way shape or form. This is just something that allows us to continue to give a peer-to-peer feedback thing that I think is kind of missing sometimes.”