‘Pathway’ plan places barriers on education

Most people who work with children will share stories about how many times they’ve told them this or that: really important stuff like the Pythagorean theorem, subject-verb agreement, even instructions for filing the FAFSA. When they inevitably forget or — even worse — say you never told them that really important thing, my response to the complaining teacher, parent or counselor is: “You know, it’s never important until it is.”

One of those very important things is getting ready to happen in Indiana’s public education history, and I want to go on record sharing it with everyone who believes they have a stake in our state’s educational future, so no one can come back and say they didn’t know how important this decision is.

The State Board of Education is going to vote Dec. 6 on the proposed graduation pathway requirements and, believe me, they bring a huge fundamental change to how students in Indiana earn a high school diploma.

After attending a recent discussion with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, it is clear there are many areas of concern to address both with the public and the Board of Education.

First, the name “graduation pathways” is misleading. Instead of providing alternative routes for students to earn diplomas, the proposal adds layers to the process.

Not only would a student need to meet our current diploma requirements (earning 40 credits), he or she would also need to learn and demonstrate employable skills by completing a project-based, service-based or work-based learning experience.

They would also have to exhibit post-secondary-ready competencies by fulfilling one of nine options in this pathway.

Some examples of these include reaching college-ready benchmark scores on the SAT or ACT, earning an honors diploma, achieving a minimum Armed Forces Qualification Test score on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test, taking advanced placement and/or dual credit classes or career-technical courses with a C average or better or earning a state, federal or industry recognized credential or certification.

For the average or above average student, all of these new requirements are attainable; in fact, most of those students probably already do this on their way to earning their diploma.

But the student who just barely earns the required 40 credits currently will have little chance of completing all three suggested requirements if this proposal passes.

The Indiana Association of School Principals and other interested parties have asked Indiana high schools to calculate a graduation rate using the proposed pathways with their 2017 class. On average, schools are reporting they would see a drop of 20 to 25 percent in their graduation rate if this is implemented.

I am confident schools will adapt, and they will find ways to work within the requirements if these pathways are approved by the State Board of Education. But I have to wonder why Indiana is looking for such a huge overhaul of our already strong diploma requirements, especially in comparison to other states’ requirements.

Approximately 86 percent of Indiana students attend a public school. Only five of the 14 members of the Graduation Pathways panel represent public schools; the others are politicians, state-level and work-force development employees, or governor appointees. What is their motive?

Besides the fact that the graduation pathways aren’t really pathways at all and will make earning a high school diploma in Indiana even harder, the panel hasn’t addressed other key concerns about this proposal.

Those of us in the field who live this every day are very anxious about how to handle transfer students who have selected a pathway program in their old school that their new school doesn’t offer.

How do we ensure they earn a diploma?

We are also concerned about the increased testing time and how that will take students away from classroom instruction.

At one point in this proposal, students were going to be required to earn their college-readiness scores on the SAT or ACT during a school day administration of the exam. That’s at least two more days per year, if not more, that students will be out of the classroom for state required testing.

There is no immediate rush to pass this proposal. In the latest draft, the panel pushed back its start date to the class of 2023 — current seventh-graders. Parents, teachers — and Indiana as a whole — should ask the State Board of Education to slow down this process so we can all give more input and discussion into this very important thing that is happening to our children.

Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at kimskile@gmail.com.