Indiana diploma rules get first OK

A plan that would rewrite the state’s requirements to graduate high school has gotten an initial approval, but local school officials are concerned about what the changes could mean for their students.

The changes include three main requirements for graduation: having students earn a diploma based on credit requirements from the state, learning and demonstrating employability skills through project-based, work-based or service-based learning experience and requiring students to earn or meet the requirements for a range of other assessments, such as the state’s Honors diploma, ACT or SAT exams, an apprenticeship or dual credit courses.

On Wednesday, members of the Indiana State Board of Education approved those recommendations, which would need to get the OK from state lawmakers before going into effect for students in the graduating class of 2023.

Multiple people, including school superintendents, special education officials and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the state board about the new requirements, and others sent their comments to the state, including Greenwood Community High School Principal Todd Garrison.

A key concern of officials is that the requirements don’t include enough details on how exactly students can meet them, local officials said.

“In theory, this is a good model to use, however, with all these options come some issues,” Garrison said.

He wants to be sure all students — regardless of academic ability — are able to meet the requirements to graduate, he said.

For example, under the current requirements, students muss pass the state’s exam meant for 10th-graders, but under the new requirements, students would need to pass other assessments, such as the SAT or ACT, and some students may not be able to do that, Garrison said.

Those assessments also cost money that some families may not have, he said.

Other ways to meet the new requirements include career-based certifications, and while school officials are currently encouraging students to earn those through the Central Nine Career Center, those also have some academic requirements that some students may struggle to meet, Garrison said.

That raises another problem: finding the teachers needed for career-based courses, he said. Right now, the high school is struggling to hire an engineering and technology teacher, he said.

The new requirements raise a lot of questions about how exactly to meet them, local school officials said.

For example, students must learn and demonstrate employability skills, which can be done in a range of different ways, from work experience to volunteering experience. But what meets those requirements needs better definition, Whiteland Community High School Principal Tom Zobel said.

For example, if a student wants to volunteer, schools need to know what type of work is or isn’t eligible to meet the requirement, he said. If a student earns that experience through working, how many hours do they need to put in, Zobel asked.

“I certainly understand their intent in what they are trying to do as far as forcing students to think about beyond high school and what their preparedness level is,” Zobel said.

“But there are a lot of unknowns still, as far as how this can be accomplished.”

And making sure students are set up to meet those requirements will be a key discussion in all high schools that will likely need to start with school counselors, helping students think from early on about what exactly they will need to do to meet the requirements to graduate, Zobel said.

If those requirements, and what needs to be done to meet them, are not better defined, he expects graduation rates will tumble, he said.

Garrison worries that students will be switching pathways multiple times in order to be able to meet the requirements, which is an issue seen in other areas that have similar requirements, he said.

But he also appreciates the time the state is giving schools to prepare, since the requirements won’t have to be met until the 2023 graduating class, Garrison said.

And he likes that students will have options to meet the requirements, which could even include athletics. But he is hoping more information will be available soon, he said.

“We will see what happens next,” Garrison said.

At a glance

Here is a look at the new graduation requirements approved by the Indiana State Board of Education, which have three different pieces:

Earn a high school diploma by earning the credits as required by the state.

Learn and demonstrate employability skills through:

  • Project-based learning, which can include a course capstone, research project, completion of Cambridge International Global Perspectives and Research or the AP Capstone Assessment.
  • Service-based learning, which can include participation in a meaningful volunteer or civic engagement experience or in a school-based co-curricular, extracurricular activity or sport for at least one academic year.
  • Work-based learning, which can include a course capstone, internship, earning the Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate or working outside of the school day.

Postsecondary-ready competecencies, which can include:

  • Honors diploma
  • ACT
  • SAT
  • Passing the ASVAB to qualify for a placement in the military
  • State- and industry-recognized credential or certification
  • State-, federal-, or industry-recognized apprenticeship
  • Career – Technical Education Concentrator
  • AP/IB/Dual Credit/Cambridge International courses or CLEP Exams

SOURCE: Indiana State Board of Education

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.