Grad criteria leave unresolved issues

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Upsetting many school superintendents and other educators across the state, the State Board of Education has established new criteria to graduate from high school in Indiana.

The board approved the new requirements Wednesday by a 7-4 vote. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick cast one of the dissenting votes. About 25 school superintendents joined the chorus of opposition at the board meeting.

The new Graduation Pathways require students to meet three criteria:

Earn a high school diploma

Gain employable skills through work- or service-based experiences

Meet or exceed a standard score on the SAT, ACT or a locally created “pathway”

Opponents expressed, chiefly, three concerns:

Not enough study and discussion — particularly with input from educators — occurred ahead of the decision.

The new criteria will cause graduation rates to plunge.

The state has not offered any estimate of the cost or how to pay for the changes, and there’s not enough lead time before the new rates kick in for schools to plan and implement strategies to put students on a path to graduation.

The new graduation standards would apply to the class of 2023, students currently in seventh grade. Presumably, that means schools would have to implement new initiatives to enable students to meet graduation standards by the fall of 2019, when the class of 2023 would begin their freshman year.

The unanswered questions about funding, “pathways” and implementation will certainly delay preparations.

Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Tim Smith and others have said the anticipated decline in graduation rates would cause the reputation of local school districts to suffer. The decline would be caused mostly by the requirement to pass the SAT, ACT or local “pathway.”

Smith anticipates Anderson High School’s rate would decline from about 95 percent to about 70 percent. For many members of the public, that would register as a decline in the quality of education offered at ACS.

That is a valid concern, particularly in an era when students can transfer freely from one district to another, taking state money to pay for their education with them.

But it’s also true that nearly all Indiana schools would have to conform to the new rules, meaning that most schools’ graduation rates would be affected.

A greater concern might be the viewpoint of Indiana schools from outside the state. Would business leaders and others who are thinking of coming to Indiana be dissuaded by a decline in graduation rates?

That would be ironic, given that Graduation Pathways is designed to foster economic development by creating a stronger, deeper Indiana workforce.

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