October 10, 2017

Proposed Overhaul Of Graduation Requirements Begins To Take Shape

Article origination IPBS-RJC
State Board of Education member Byron Ernest, chairman of the board's graduation pathways committee, explains possible pathways during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at the Indiana State Library. - Eric Weddle/WFYI

State Board of Education member Byron Ernest, chairman of the board's graduation pathways committee, explains possible pathways during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at the Indiana State Library.

Eric Weddle/WFYI

Members of a State Board of Education committee tasked with proposing new ways for students to qualify for graduation began sketching their plan Tuesday.

There’s still a lot for the dozen-plus members to sort out before their last meeting next month.

But a list of nine alternative ways students could become eligible for a diploma has begun to take shape. It includes: earning industry-recognized credentials; passing the military entrance exam plus enlisting; and work-based learning with job experience.

“We came a long way today, I hope you agree,” says state board member Byron Ernest, who is leading the committee. “But we’ve got a long way to go.”

Students are currently required to pass math and English end of course exam to graduate with a Core 40 or Honors diploma.

The assessment serves two purposes: it make students eligible to earn a diploma and satisfies federal accountability requirements for for high school students.

But most committee members want a reduced focus on that high-stakes test. The exam is not included in a student’s grade point average. Rather it is a pass/fail assessment to show basic understanding.

A student can retake the exams until they pass each one. Some students pass on their first attempt. But for other students, it can take years.

As a result, some committee members say, students can miss out on career or college opportunities as teachers and administrators increase focus on a student passing the test.

Jason Bearce, senior associate commissioner for strategy and external affairs with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, says colleges don’t focus on a student’s ECA score, rather looking at over GPA and scores on the ACT or SAT.

“I don’t know how we can argue that the test, in and of itself, is a pathway to anything other than the end of high school,” he says.

Rep. Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis), chairman of the House education committee, says its possible the General Assembly could change the rules around end of course exams. The assessment, he says, could continue to be used for federal accountability and for state graduation requirements if a student earns a certain score. Allowing students to retake the test, he says, could be removed.

Here are nine ways the committee is considering proposing as alternatives to the current end of course exam for math and English.

  • Meeting honors diploma requirements plus meeting a yet to be defined metric
  • Earning industry-recognized credentials
  • Passing the military entrance exam, or ASVAB, with a yet to be defined score
  • Earning a score of three or higher on related AP exams, or score of four or higher on IB exams
  • Earning a yet to be defined number of dual credit plus remediation free ACT/SAT score set by the College Board
  • A yet to be defined SAT/ACT score plus a yet to be defined grade point average
  • Yet to be defined multilingual proficiency
  • Work-based learning with on-the-job experience
  • Yet to be defined goal for students concentrating on career-technical education courses.

But state superintendent Jennifer McCormick has concerns. She says the debate hasn’t really been about new course pathways for students but rather redefining the end of course exam.

“We’ve laid out differently, we’ve packaged it differently but the contents don’t look a whole lot different,” McCormick says.

McCormick also worries that some schools will be unable to offer newly defined pathways.

The committee will meet two more times before submitting its proposal to the State Board of Education.

Earlier this year the General Assembly charged the state board with creating new graduation requirement. The legislation is open-ended, giving authority to the board to make possibly substantive changes that could impact every student in the state.

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