GREENFIELD — Area educators say they’re anxious about a change to the state’s graduation requirements that might lead to a sudden drop in high school graduation rates.
State legislators met with superintendents and administrators from area school corporations Friday at Mt. Vernon to talk about the upcoming legislative session and changes in education policy being considered.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, and Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, fielded questions from educators about the state’s new graduation requirements, which were approved last week by the Indiana State Board of Education.
The state Legislature must approve the plan this session before the changes are implemented in schools.
Beginning for the class of 2023, students will need to meet three graduation requirements in order to be counted in their school’s graduation rate.
Essentially, students must obtain a high school diploma, demonstrate specific skills that show they’re employable and complete certain post-secondary competencies. Competencies could be achieving a minimum score on a standardized test like the SAT or ACT, being awarded a state or industry-recognized certificate or gaining a credential through an apprenticeship.
Many educators are concerned about the lack of details regarding what the three categories encompass, said Greenfield-Central Superintendent Harold Olin. The details must be addressed to consider students not capable of graduating with honors or meeting a minimum standardized test score, he said.
The plan’s post-secondary competencies requirement could be met by obtaining an industry credential showing progress in an apprenticeship. This could be beneficial for students with no plans to pursue a four-year college degree, but there is still work to be done in convincing the community that encouraging their children to pursue a career in the skilled trades is a viable option to make a living, Olin said.
“The industry certification piece sounds great, but it’s a very big change in culture for a place like Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon or New Palestine where we only send a small percentage of our kids to career centers,” Olin said.
“As apprehensive as we are as school officials, we’re going to retool or die,” he added. “We’ll do what we need to do to prepare our kids to be successful.”
Another initial concern for the school corporation is preparation time for the implementation of new standards, said Greenfield-Central director of student services Jim Bever.
“We want the opportunity to make sure we’ve got this right before we start,” Bever said.
Providing the new industry-standard education pieces will take more planning and financial resources than people might realize, he added.
“Without the time to tool-up, and quite honestly the money to tool up, we’re going to be in trouble,” Bever said.
Crider has discussed the changes at length during meetings with area superintendents in the few past weeks. While the Indiana State Board of Education approved Graduation Pathways, several ramifications are still being discussed by policymakers, Crider said.
A major question across the board concerns the graduation of special education students, who earn a certificate of completion in lieu of a traditional diploma. This raises the question of what changes, if any, will be made to special education academic requirements.
It is currently unclear exactly what adjustments will be made to the plan in order to accommodate these students, Crider said.
“We’re having that discussion prior to the legislative session,” Crider said. “I look for there to be a number of bills to try and address that. …We’re trying to figure out how we respond to that to help the families who have students in that situation.”
The new changes must work within the parameters of what the federal government allows state legislators to do, Cherry said.
The Indiana Department of Education receives federal education dollars, so state leaders need to work alongside their federal counterparts to iron out the most important details of the education plan.
“We’ve got to make sure that what we finally agree to is doable at the federal level,” Cherry said. “And if not, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”