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.

getting in

Detroit district moves beyond test scores for admittance to elite high schools like Cass Tech and Renaissance

The Detroit school district is changing its application process for students hoping for a spot at selective high schools like Cass Technical High School.

Detroit’s main school district is changing the way it decides which students gain entry to the city’s elite high schools.

Students applying to Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School and two other selective high schools will no longer be judged primarily on the results of a single exam.

Instead, an admissions team comprised of teachers and staff from the schools, as well as administrators in the district’s central office, will use a score card that gives students points in various categories.

Students can get up to 40 points for their score on the district’s high school placement exam, up to 30 points for their grades and transcripts, up to 20 points for an essay and up to 10 points for a letter of recommendation. Students already enrolled in the district will also get 10 bonus points that will give them an edge over students applying from charter and suburban schools.

That is a change over past years when  students with the highest test scores largely got automatic admissions to their top-choice schools. Other factors like grades, essays, student interviews, and letters of recommendations were typically only considered during an appeals process for students who didn’t make the first-round cut.

“You can imagine that there was a great deal of subjectivity to that, and if you’re a student who might not be a good test taker, you were at a disadvantage,” said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who, as a dyslexic, said he was not a strong test-taker in school.

“I can empathize with that gifted student whose intelligence is not always identified by a standardized test,” he said.

Vitti said he hopes the new process “will have more of a quality control … It’s a consistent process to ensure that we’re being equitable and fair when students are being enrolled in these schools.”

The district’s decision to reduce the role of testing in admission decisions mirrors a trend across the country where college admissions offices are increasingly moving beyond SAT and ACT scores to give more weight to grades and other factors in admissions decisions.

Cities like New York and Boston are reviewing their use of test-based admissions for their elite high schools in the face of an onslaught of criticism that the tests discriminate against students of color and students who come from poor families and reinforce already prevalent segregation in the districts.

“Tests tend to favor kids who come from backgrounds and whose families have the wherewithal to focus on test prep,” said Bob Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, an organization critical of schools’ reliance on test scores to make crucial decisions.

In addition to changing the admission criteria for Detroit’s selective high schools, the district is also for the first time requiring all district 8th-graders to take the exam. In the past, only students who applied to the top schools took those tests.

“Not every school emphasized the exam application process, so it would be dependent on an individual parent’s ability to navigate the system,” Vitti said.

Only about half of the district’s 8th graders took the exam last year. Data provided by the district show that several schools had just a handful of students take the test while others had dozens of test-takers. (See the full list of test-takers from district schools here.)

Vitti hopes that requiring 8th graders to take the test and encouraging more of them to write essays and gather letters of recommendation to apply will help prepare them to apply to college four years later.

“We’re creating a culture of college readiness,” he said.

The district is also using the exam to survey students about their career ambitions and plans to make high school programming decisions based on their answers, Vitti said, adding that high schools will also use the exam results to determine which students could benefit from advanced classes and which ones need more help.

Some parents and educators say they welcome efforts to make the application process more equitable.

Hope Gibson, the dean of students at Bethune Elementary-Middle School on the city’s west side, said students were excited when the school encouraged them to apply to the selective schools.

“They feel like we believe in them,” she said.

The changes, however, have put some families on edge as they worry about how the new approach will affect students’ chances at landing a spot in their first-choice school.

Aliya Moore, a parent leader at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, a K-8 school that typically sends roughly half of its graduates to Cass and Renaissance, said parents had trouble getting information about the process and have been frustrated with Vitti and the school officials he brought to Detroit with him from his last job running schools in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I don’t like these new people coming here and criticizing our old ways,” said Moore, who graduated from Cass Tech in 1998 and has a daughter enrolled there now. “The district is now full of changes. Some are good, but some are like, if something is not broken, why are you trying to fix it? We support Dr. Vitti. We have nothing negative to say. But when you come in and you just totally dismantle what was, even if it was working, we don’t understand that.”

Among Moore’s concerns is the district’s use of  a new test this year, which makes it more difficult for the school to help students prepare. Also, this year’s test is being administered online while prior tests were on paper.

Vitti said the district is using a new test this year because last year’s exam wasn’t an option.

“The license expired years ago and the district was illegally using it,” he said.

The new test will be online, he said, though students with disabilities and other students whose parents request it will be allowed to take the test on paper.

The Detroit district now has four examination schools including Cass, Renaissance and Martin Luther King Jr. High School. The district this year converted Southeastern High School into an exam school after Southeastern returned to the district from five years in the Education Achievement Authority, a now-dissolved state-run recovery district.

How I Teach

From bikes to blue hair: how one Denver kindergarten teacher shares his passion with students

Andres Pazo, a kindergarten teacher at Denver's Maxwell Elementary, with his class.

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Andres Pazo, a kindergarten teacher in an ESL Spanish class at Denver’s Maxwell Elementary School, doesn’t do things halfway. Before Denver Broncos home games, he’ll come to school with his face and hair painted orange and navy. For holidays or school book fairs, he wears full themed costumes. A passionate cyclist, he dresses in professional cycling gear to teach bike safety to children.

Pazo, who colleagues say has a smile for everyone he meets, received one of Denver Public Schools’ four Leadership Lamp awards last summer.

He talked with Chalkbeat about the teachers who inspired him to enter the field, why he uses secret codes to get his students’ attention, and how he gets to know students before school starts.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Why did you become a teacher?
I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and decided to become a teacher during my last year in my country. For all the universities that I applied to, I put elementary education as my first choice, and I got accepted.

During high school, I had some teachers that impacted my life — I think because they taught with their hearts and reached mine. Hector Zamora was my geography teacher in college. He didn’t care about scores. He just wanted us to know, love, and feel geography. Also, I can add Evelia Mujica, my eighth grade biology teacher. She was super-strict and funny, but in the end, I think she just wanted us to love and really know about biology. These two still inspire me every single day to be a good teacher.

What does your classroom look like?
My classroom is a room where my students feel safe and loved, and where they try hard all year long. It’s also messy, and you can see many masks and hats that I use to engage my students in lessons, and, of course, their projects throughout the year.

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my _____. Why?
Motivation. It is what keeps me thinking of activities, projects, lessons, and ideas so my students enjoy anything that they need to learn.

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach? How did you come up with the idea?
My favorite lesson to teach is a writing unit at the end of the year, called “All About.” I always bring in things that I love — like my bikes — and write about them. I let students write about any small moment: about something that they love, the food their parents make, a family trip, a family visiting them, a good or sad day … anything they would like to share. They usually bring in their favorite toys.

The students’ writing is amazing because they apply everything they’ve been learning. They try so hard to write everything about their toys. You can hear them sharing their stories with others, and their pictures are incredible. Writing is a good indicator of how much they have grown during the school year.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand your lesson?
I sit with him or her after the lesson is taught and work on the skill that needs to be mastered.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
I use a lot of “secret codes” with my students. For example, when I say “mustache code,” they put a finger across their upper lips. They can be working, reading, or playing, and when I say it, I have 100 percent of students’ attention right away.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
It starts before the first day of class. I usually write letters to them or do home visits. I take the first two weeks of school to get to know them and what they like to do. I take time to welcome them so they can feel safe and confident in the classroom.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
When I was working at Denver Center for International Studies at Ford, we started a home visiting program. We first thought parents didn’t have time for us or that they didn’t want to take the time. But, once we started making the calls and found that parents wanted us to come, we understood that parents didn’t know about the program. After that, some parents became more involved in their kids’ education and with the school.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
A lot of mountain bike reviews about bicycles, parts, or trails to ride.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Never change my personality.