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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, December 07, 2017 1:00 am

Diplomas soon won't be enough

State board OKs additional requirements to graduate

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The State Board of Education voted 7-4 Wednesday to institute additional graduation requirements – despite hours of testimony against the plan.

The overwhelming majority of about 60 people who testified during the seven-hour marathon meeting pleaded for a pause in the process due to implementation concerns.

But the state board approved the new graduation pathways anyway. Essentially a diploma will no longer be enough for high school students to graduate starting with the class of 2023. Instead, students will also have to demonstrate workforce skills and college readiness through a variety of optional paths.

“It's vital to take the time to fully develop ideas,” said Meagan Milne, a Homestead High School parent and president of the Southwest Allen County Schools board. “When decisions are unnecessarily rushed, ... trust erodes.”

The added rigor has stoked fears that the graduation rate will plummet and local schools will be overworked tracking the requirements.

But those in support – including the major public higher-education institutions and the business community – say students are graduating without the skills needed to get a job or move on with post-secondary training.

“A high school diploma is no longer the finish line,” said Alicia Kielmovitch, a state board staff member.

She pointed to the changing economy, noting that while jobs have returned they aren't the same jobs lost in 2007. Instead, most require some sort of technical training, certificate or degree.

“Employers have an important stake in K-12 education,” said Caryl Auslander of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “We pay half the taxes and are the end users.”

She lamented a serious lack of skilled workers and companies having to train employees.

“The status quo isn't working,” Auslander said.

Under the plan, all students would have to earn a diploma by meeting existing credit requirements. On top of that, they must complete a project, service or work-based learning experience. They could accomplish the latter by volunteering or completing an internship, to name a few options.

A third requirement is to show they are ready for some sort of post-secondary education or training. This could be accomplished by hitting certain scores on college entrance exams or earning an industry certification, such as in welding.

Much of the concern revolves around equal access to apprenticeships and work-based experiences in high schools around the state – including in rural areas with a limited business base. Also, counselors talked about the additional bureaucratic burden on schools to “check all the boxes.”

Local districts can create their own pathways but the State Board of Education would have to approve. And there are no solid fiscal estimates on what the new mandate might cost schools.

“I think we can afford more time for our kids when we look at a policy of this magnitude,” said board member Cari Whicker, a teacher from Wells County. “Those in the field are asking for respect and for us to fill in the blanks.”

She was one of four no votes, along with Steve Yager, former superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools; Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick; and Maryanne McMahon.

Those supporting were Tony Walker, Vince Bertram, Gordon Hendry, Byron Ernest, David Freitas, Kathleen Mote and B.J. Watts.