A plan that would rewrite the state’s requirements to graduate from high school has received the first of two needed approvals.

The proposed 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.

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Requiring students to earn or meet requirements for a range of other assessments, such as the state’s Honors diploma, ACT or SAT exams, an apprenticeship or dual-credit courses.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved those recommendations Dec. 6 on a 7-4 vote, with State Superintendent of Schools Jennifer McCormick among board members casting votes against the proposal.

Afterward, McCormick issued a statement on the outcome.

“Although disappointed in the vote, I’m extremely proud of our K-12 colleagues. They continue to be tireless advocates for our children and have remained student-focused throughout this process. It is clear our Indiana educators are committed to being part of a solution to workforce and higher education concerns. The Department will continue working with our legislators, concentrating on successful implementation of the Graduation Pathways, and collaborating with all those who work on behalf of our students on a daily basis.”

McCormick also said she felt more time was needed to fine-tune the requirements, according to WIBC radio of Indianapolis.

Before the plan becomes effective for students in the graduating class of 2023 (this year’s seventh-graders), however, it must also be approved by state lawmakers. The Indiana Senate and House are scheduled to reconvene for the winter session at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 3, after which the graduation requirements likely will be scheduled for votes.

A range of stakeholders — including school superintendents, special education officials and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce — spoke to the state board before its vote about the new requirements, while others sent their comments to state officials.

Rising to the challenge

A key concern was that the requirements don’t include enough details on exactly how students can meet them.

The proposed changes don’t guide school districts on how they will navigate the pathways that have been proposed, said Shawn Price, superintendent of the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.

Price said he’s concerned about repercussions the proposed changes could have — such as how they would affect the district from a budgetary standpoint and whether they would require additional personnel.

“It’s going to put more time and effort into that,” Price said. “If we aren’t able to expand our offerings to meet the pathway requirements, students may choose to go elsewhere.”

Jim Roberts, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said he doesn’t have any specific concerns about the proposed changes, however.

“We have to figure out how that will affect us,” Roberts said. “We do believe we are positioned well to address the graduation pathways.”

Under current graduation requirements, students must pass End of Course Assessments, which measure student achievement in English/Language Arts (English 10) and mathematics (Algebra 1).

Under the new requirements, students would need to pass other assessments, such as the SAT or ACT college exams. Out-of-pocket fees for those types of tests could be a barrier for some families, as about 44 percent of families in both public school districts in Bartholomew County are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches

Other ways to meet the new requirements include career-based certifications.

For example, the proposal requires that students must learn and demonstrate employability skills, which can be done in a range of different ways, from work experience to volunteering experience.

But if a student wants to volunteer, it is not yet clear what type of work is or isn’t eligible to meet the requirement. If a student earns that experience through working, it also is not yet known how many hours they would need to put in.

BCSC ahead of the game

BCSC already prepares students in the area of college and career readiness, Roberts said.

The ACT is administered to every student and the district participates in the Governor’s Work Ethic certificate program, which allows high school seniors to ensure they have the skills and traits employers are seeking, he said.

The district has 100 percent of its high school seniors complete a senior project, which helps measure skills that should demonstrate whether or not a student is ready for a career, Roberts said.

Making sure students are in a position 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.

Price said he agrees with having school counselors and principals involved in the discussions.

One of the fears expressed among some superintendents is that graduation rates will drop if the new standards go into effect.

The graduation rate within BCSC was 90 percent in 2015-16, while the rate at Hauser High School was 100 percent that year.

Price said he believes the new graduation requirements will have an impact on rate, but it’s too early to speculate what that might be.

“It’s a wait and see (situation),” Price said.

However, Roberts said he isn’t concerned about BCSC’s high school graduation rate dropping, adding that he believes the district is in a good position to meet the needs of its students.

Annie Goeller, a staff writer for the Daily Journal of Franklin, a sister publication of The Republic, contributed to this report.

High school diploma types

Indiana has four high school diploma types — General, Core 40, Core 40 with Academic Honors and Core 40 With Technical Honors. Learn more about them at the state Department of Education website, doe.in.gov/ccr/indianas-diploma-requirements

What's next

After receiving approval from the State Board of Education, proposed high school graduation standards must also be approved by Indiana lawmakers. The Indiana Senate and House are scheduled to reconvene for the winter session at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 3.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com