State board member calls for Indiana to keep a general diploma

Indiana State Board of Education member Steve Yager will offer a resolution Wednesday asking that the board postpones a vote to redefine the state’s high school diplomas, in part to save the general diploma from extinction.

Educators, parents and students in recent months have raised concerns that a plan to eliminate the general diploma, and expect all students to meet tougher graduation requirements, could prevent some students with learning barriers from earning diplomas that can help them get decent jobs.

The board was expected to vote on the new diplomas at its Wednesday meeting, but the resolution posted this morning asks a committee to make revisions instead.

The diploma proposals underwent minor adjustments after the board held a special meeting to seek more public feedback last week, but there were few changes despite thousands of comments from the public. The state’s diploma committee met Friday to weigh the feedback from the public.

Worries were expressed about whether fine arts should be required. Others were concerned that extra math classes that would be required to earn a “workforce ready” diploma, which would replace the state’s current general diploma, were too much. Some also complained that the state shouldn’t require kids to take classes like P.E. but not require music and arts classes.

On Friday, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz said the new diplomas would give students flexibility and help ensure they graduate with skills they’ll need after high school.

“We feel we’ve added (support) for students to be able to accomplish the workforce ready diploma,” Ritz said Friday. “Many of the supports are in math by adding applied math courses. Students take math all four years, and we want to be sure that they are having opportunities to apply the math that they’ve learned.”

Committee member Jason Bearce, with the Commission on Higher education, reiterated Friday that Indiana would also be looking into strengthening the state’s certificates of completion, given to students who come to class but don’t earn a diploma, to make them stronger and more acceptable to employers.

If the resolution is approved, the new recommendations would then return to the board by April 1, 2016. The new diplomas would take effect for the 2018-19 school year.

The board is also expected to discuss a study done on the 2015 ISTEP test that caused board members to push back voting on cut-off scores from early October to last week. The study looked at the differences in difficulty between online and paper test questions and found that online exams were mostly a bit harder, which could require score adjustments of up to nine points in certain subjects.

It’s also possible there could be conversations about Gov. Mike Pence’s announcement that he now favors softening accountability measures for 2014-15 because the state transitioned to new, more challenging standards and tests. Pence said in his announcement that he would work to craft legislation so teachers aren’t penalized in their evaluations or blocked from pay raises for expected drops to 2015 ISTEP scores.

But it’s not yet clear whether, or how, any of that relief would factor into A-F grades.

“With regard to our A-F system, I think it’s important,” Pence said in a more recent statement. “We grade our kids every week. We need to grade our schools every year. We’re going to be working with members of the General Assembly to make sure that when those grades are assigned that they fairly and accurately reflect the efforts of our students and teachers.”