SUPERINTENDENT’S CORNER: About the state’s new graduation pathways

By LAURA HAMMACK, guest columnist

Early this year, Indiana’s General Assembly gave a significant responsibility to the state board of education to create new graduation requirements.

The goal for this request was made with a rationale that changing requirements for graduation would translate to increased academic and vocational skills that would better position graduates for college and/or career post-secondary placements.

In response to this mandate, a “Graduation Pathways Panel” was organized where elected officials and individuals representing governmental units, business sectors, higher education, non-public education and public education studied the big question: “What do our students need to know and be able to do in order to be ready for life after graduation from high school?”

This panel recently made their recommendation to the state board of education and, even though the board was presented with six hours of testimony from nearly 60 teachers, parents and administrators, speaking out against their proposal, the proposal passed and is headed to the legislature for approval during the 2018 legislative session.

There was a small number of supporters of the proposal who positioned themselves with concerns that Indiana employers can’t find employees with the necessary skills to fill positions that are going unfilled. In addition, higher education indicated favor for the proposal because they have communicated concerns that graduates from Indiana’s high schools are not prepared for the demands of institutions of higher learning.

Because of the profound impact that these new pathways have on the future of pre-K to Grade 12 education in Indiana, I thought it would be helpful to “unpack” the recommendations made by the panel that will be recommended for legislative approval.

First, you may be asking, “What is a pathway?” The definition of a pathway can differ based who you talk to; however, the general definition is that a student will still have to meet traditional diploma requirements for graduation and they will also have to show evidence via “pathway options” of employability skills and show post-secondary readiness.

The “pathway options” that are required to show evidence of employability skills include: 1) project-based learning experience; or 2) service-based learning experience; or 3) work-based learning experience. Students must complete at least one of these options.

Project-based learning allows students to gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem or challenge. Students can show evidence of this pathway through completion of a course capstone, research project or AP capstone assessment.

Service-based learning integrates meaningful service to enrich and apply academic knowledge, teach civic and personal responsibility (and other employability skills), and strengthen communities. Students can show evidence of this pathway though participation in a meaningful volunteer or civic engagement experience; engagement in a school-based activity, such as a co-curricular or extra-curricular activity for at least one academic year; or an “other” option approved by the state board of education.

Work-based learning is a strategy to reinforce academic, technical and social skills learned in the classroom through collaborative activities with employer partners. Evidence of this pathway can be shown through the completion of a course capstone, internship, Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate, employment outside of the school day, or an “other” option approved by the state board of education.

The “pathway options” that are required to show evidence of post-secondary readiness include: 1) meet all requirements for an Indiana academic or technical honors diploma; or 2) meet the “college ready benchmarks” for the ACT or SAT; or 3) earn at least a minimum AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test) score to qualify for placement in one of the branches of the U.S. military; or 4) earn a state- or industry-recognized credential or certification; or 5) earn a state-, federal- or industry-recognized apprenticeship; or 6) earn a “C” average or higher in at least six high school credits in a career sequence; or 7) earn a “C” average or higher in at least three courses within an Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), dual credit, Cambridge International Courses or College Level Examination Program (CLEP); or 8) participate in a locally created pathway that meets the framework from and earns the approval of the state board of education. Like the pathway option for employability skills, this option also requires that students complete at least one of the options outlined above.

This new system is proposed to go into place for our current seventh-grade class who will start high school in 2019-2020 and graduate in 2022-2023.

As you can see, there is a lot more to learn about these pathway options and the benchmarks that will be required to exhibit evidence of success.

For current high school students graduating in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, the ISTEP 10/end-of-course assessments will continue to be used as the graduation qualifying examination.

Clearly, these changes are massive. While they won’t go into effect until school year 2022-2023, we will be mobilizing to be prepared for these changes when they are placed into law during this legislative cycle.

We have many lingering questions and are committed to advocating for our boys and girls as the details are determined. I promise to keep our school community aware as these issues unfold.

Laura Hammack is superintendent of Brown County schools. She can be reached at lhammack@browncountyschools.com or 812-988-6601.