In the Classroom

Indiana's high school diplomas are about to get an overhaul

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Accelerated Schools plans to take over a vacant Indianapolis Public Schools building in the fall.

Indiana could soon offer fewer high school diplomas types, but the move is aimed at creating broader opportunities for students looking to prepare for college or jobs.

Students starting high school in 2018 would have three diploma options instead of four under a plan presented Monday — a “college and career ready” diploma, an “honors” diploma and a “workforce ready diploma.” Currently there are four diploma options: general, Core 40, Core 40 honors and career and technical honors diplomas.

The proposed new options are intended to be simpler.

Teresa Lubbers, the head of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education told the Indiana Career Council on Monday that she and others on a committee tasked with the project want to make sure students seeking any diploma experience as high a level of academic challenge as possible.

“The goal was really to ensure college and career readiness and academic rigor with the diplomas going forward,” Lubbers said. “I actually lost track of the number of drafts. It has to exceed 50.”

The process of changing the diplomas is far from over. The career council, Commission for Higher Education, education department and Indiana State Board of Education all must still sign off. Plus, the original diploma subcommittee will make a presentation before lawmakers later this summer.

The proposed new diplomas won’t look completely unfamiliar to Hoosier students and parents. The differences lie mainly in how the programs are structured, with some changes to credits and courses required.

For example, to earn the new diplomas, all students would be required to take a personal finance class and an introduction to college and careers class.

But essentially, the categories would serve the same purposes — a diploma for students going directly to jobs with no plans for college, one for students who do want to pursue higher education and an honors diploma.

Click on the tabs below to compare Indiana’s current and proposed new diplomas. You can see more details of both current and new diplomas on the education department’s website.

College and Career Ready diploma

Replacing Indiana’s Core 40 diploma is the College and Career Ready diploma. It would require students to take more core classes, especially in math and science. It also would allow students to specialize in an interest area — what it’s calling a “sequence.” That could be classes in fine arts, for example, career and technical education or many more.

Core 40 Diploma

  • English: 8 credits, including literature, composition and speech
  • Math: 6 credits, including Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II
  • Science: 6 credits, including Biology, Chemistry and Physics
  • Social Studies: 6 credits, including U.S. History, U.S. Government, Economics and World History
  • Directed Electives: 5 credits in either a world language, find arts or career and technical education
  • Health and Wellness: 3 credits
  • Electives: 6 credits

Total: 40 credits

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said this would be the default track for all students as they enter high school.

“Everybody is going to start out with the college and career ready diploma,” Ritz said. “That’s where we want kids to be.”

Indiana Honors diploma

Students looking for a greater challenge could take on the Indiana Honors diploma, which is a simplified version of the previous honors program that separated academic and career and technical honors. Students could still choose advanced classes in both areas, but general requirements, such as GPA and total number of credits, would remain the same.

Core 40 Honors diplomas

All the requirements of the Core 40 diploma, plus:

Additional requirements for academic honors 

  • Math: 2 credits
  • World Language: 6 to 8 credits
  • Fine arts: 2 credits
  • Grades of C or better
  • At least a 3.0 GPA

One of the following:

  • Earn 4 credits in two or more Advanced Placement classes along with exams
  • Earn 6 college credits
  • Earn two of the following: 3 college credit courses, 2 credits in AP courses with exams, 2 credits in International Baccalaureate courses with exams
  • Earn at least a 1750 on SAT reading, math and writing sections, with a minimum score of 530 on each.
  • Earn a 26 or higher on the ACT and complete the writing section
  • Earn 4 credits in IB courses along with exams

Additional requirements for technical honors

  • 6 credits in college and career preparation course and either a industry-recognized certification or 6 career pathway college credits
  • Grades of C or better
  • At least a 3.0 GPA

At least one of the following:

  • Any option from the academic honors list
  • On WorkKeys test, reach a level 6 in reading for information, level 6 in applied math, level 5 in locating information
  • On Accuplacer test, score at least 80 in writing, 90 in reading and 75 in math
  • On Compass tests, score at least a 66 in Algebra, 70 in writing and 80 in reading

Total: 47 credits

Workforce Ready diploma

The third proposed diploma option, known as the Workforce Ready diploma, is not meant for a majority of students, Lubbers said. Rather, it is supposed to help students who struggle academically prove to employers that they have finished a well-rounded academic program and have the skills for jobs.

“Close to 90 percent of kids get the college and career ready diploma or honors,” Lubbers said. “So we are talking less than 10 percent there.”

General Diploma

  • English: 8 credits, including literature, composition and speech
  • Math: 4 credits, including Algebra I or integrated math courses
  • Science: 4 credits, including Biology, Physical Science or Earth and Space Science
  • Social Studies: 4 credits, including U.S. History and U.S. Government
  • Health and Wellness: 3 credits
  • College and Career Pathway courses: 6 credits
  • Flex: 5 credits including ones involving workplace learning, dual credit or other academic subjects
  • Electives: 6 credits

Total: 40 credits

Neil Pickett, a council member who works for IU Health, was unsure about the need for a modified general diploma. He said he thought employers might not necessarily be able to see the distinction between that and the college and career ready one.

“You are increasing the rigor pretty significantly,” Pickett said. “I wonder if we ought to just not just encourage people to get the extra credits and have college and career ready degree.”

But Ritz said some students, especially those receiving special education services, will need the modifications. To be eligible for that diploma, students must have their parents and principal sign off, she said.

“You can’t just go on this track,” Ritz said. “But students with special needs, they might make decisions earlier on that. We wanted to make sure the special education students who were on a workforce-ready track were going to actually end up being able to end up in the workforce.”

All changes needed to be finalized by December, Ritz said, so the legislature can have advanced notice of what changes might need to be made to state law for the diplomas to go into effect in 2018.

How I Teach

When a parent pushed for a lesson on Mayan history, this Colorado teacher invited her in to help

PHOTO: Megan Witucki
Megan Witucki, a teacher at Compass Montessori School in Wheat Ridge, works with students.

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Megan Witucki, an elementary teacher at Compass Montessori School, a charter school in Wheat Ridge, believes in the power of community experts.

That’s why when a parent pushed for a lesson on Mayan history, Witucki invited her in to speak about native cultures. Likewise, for a major end-of-year art project, Witucki brought in a local artist who shared her secrets with students.

Witucki talked to Chalkbeat about why she started tapping into community expertise and how the Montessori approach helps her get to know students and foster a culture of work.

Witucki is one of 20 educators selected for the state’s new Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet. The group provides input to officials at the Colorado Department of Education on the impact of education policies in the classroom.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I wanted to give back to my community in a meaningful and lasting way. I love working with children and I admire their sense of wonder and their infectious passion to learn. Each day provides me with the chance to empower a child as well as the opportunity to grow and learn myself.

What does your classroom look like?
I am one of two fully-trained certified Montessori teachers who guide the instruction of 33 first through third grade children in our multi-age, lower elementary classroom.

Our classroom is designed to foster choice. It is inviting, cozy, inspiring and engaging. Our classroom is not very big and we have to accommodate 33 little bodies. We also have a plethora of Montessori materials that need to be available to the students at all times. Rather than traditional desks we use individual lap tables, small group tables and work rugs that define the children’s work spaces.

We have space for the students to display their work on the walls and framed prints of art masterworks to inspire creativity. We have classroom plants to add natural beauty to the environment and provide students with hands-on experience during botany lessons.

Throughout our morning work period, one of us offers individual or small group lessons while the other monitors the children’s independent work and re-directs or guides when necessary.

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my __________. Why?
I couldn’t teach without the support of my school community. Montessori education is a team effort that requires the assistance of and support from the child, their parents, their peers, the co-teaching pair, staff, administration and the larger Compass Montessori community.

Co-teaching is an integral part of a larger network that cares for the children. This network functions like concentric circles that surround and support the child-learner. In the innermost circle is the child, driven by their inherent passions and intrinsic interests. Next, the parents and family, who support the child with their work and education. In the succeeding circle, the learner is given academic, social and emotional support by my co-teacher and me.

The following circle of support is offered by the child’s classmates who vary in age and provide the child with peer guidance as well as opportunities to mentor others and take on multiple leadership roles. This circle is surrounded by an involved administration and the larger staff support circle. Finally, comes the support circle of the greater Compass Montessori community of parents and extended families.

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach? How did you come up with the idea?
My favorite lesson to teach is assemblage art. In Montessori, we naturally integrate art and music into our regular classroom curriculum. The idea for assemblage art came to me when my co-teacher and I were inventorying our leftover art supplies and craft items from previous years’ projects. We had identified odds and ends that we wanted to find a use for when I stumbled upon another teacher’s Pinterest pin.

Our version of this project would be the culminating celebration of all of the year’s original artwork. We began by studying the work of the Russian-American artist Louise Nevelson, who is best known for her groundbreaking work with found art, later known as assemblage art. We discussed how this visionary saw the potential beauty in items discarded by others. The students had rich discussions about what art is and where it can be found. They concluded that sometimes art is where we least expect it.

I then invited our school chef Michelle Lundquist, whom everyone refers to as the “grandma” of our school. Michelle is also a talented local artist who specializes in assemblage art. She shared her inspirations with us and spoke about her artwork.

The children then spent a week collecting old or forgotten knickknacks, pieces from recycling bins, artifacts from the natural world and even items destined for the garbage. In addition, my co-teacher and I organized our miscellaneous craft items; we cut cardboard boxes into 8 x 8 canvases, and set out all of the materials for children to use in their art works.

We invited several parents into the classroom to help with the hot-gluing process and then dedicated a full three-hour morning work period to constructing the assemblages. After the pieces were glued, I spray-painted them monochromatic black, bronze, or gold according to each child’s choice. I was astonished at the strikingly beautiful creations! Though I had hoped to display the composite in the hallway, the children, duly proud of their pieces, insisted on taking them home.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand your lesson?
When a child does not understand the material I have presented, I will first attempt to evaluate why. Finding out why is key to understanding the solution.

The reason may be non-classroom related, like the child has not eaten breakfast or they are distressed by home issues. I will then attempt to remedy the situation as best I can. I may feed the child or offer the lesson at another time when they can better focus.

At times, lack of understanding is due to the level of the material being inappropriate. If so, I might go back to a previous lesson with the child to scaffold their knowledge base and better equip them for the more advanced concept. If the material is too easy and the child is bored, I might progress the child ahead to offer more challenge.

A child might need to see the concept presented in a way that better suits their individual learning style. Some children need to manipulate the material themselves; some need to draw the concept; some need to write it out; others need to move and fidget while they listen. We have access to the multitude of Montessori materials and accompanying curricula that allow us to teach all concepts kinesthetically when necessary.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
Our classroom often looks like organized chaos. At any given time, there may be 33 children working on 33 different projects all in our small space. When I am tempted to stop the class because they look off task, I find it is best practice to wait a minute and observe. I often discover that my first impression of off-task behavior — loud, excited talking, movement — is actually educational in nature and can lead to great work. If allowed, the discussions the students have with one another are often the foundation of invaluable learning pathways and great peer-driven projects.

On the other hand, when the behavior is indeed off task, I will have one of the children ring our chime and then politely ask the class to adjust their behavior to better allow for focused, respectful work. We work hard with the children to create and foster a culture of work by providing varied opportunities for them to take ownership over their learning process.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
Allowing children to take ownership of their learning through choice offers students the ability to show me what drives and motivates them. I then take that information to design an evolving individualized curriculum.

I also have the benefit of teaching all my students for three years. As a result I can carefully observe their educational, social, and emotional behaviors and choices. In three years I also regularly interact with the child’s family and often gain more valuable insights. With careful observation and purposeful interaction I am able to foster authentic relationships with my students and their families.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
In my first year of teaching, I had my first lesson in the power of inviting parents and the community into my classroom. I was approached by a mother in my classroom who was passionate about Mayan history and wanted her child to have more exposure to the history of native cultures. I asked if she would be willing to volunteer a few times a month to share her knowledge with the whole class. She graciously agreed and provided a richly detailed program that I still use today.

Her contributions also inspired me to establish additional classroom-community partnerships with educators from the Jefferson County Indian Education Program and the Mayan dancers from the Denver Chicano Humanities and Arts Council. The experiences shared by community members enriched our classroom in a way that would never have been possible otherwise. This mom’s passion for Mayan culture taught me to seek input from all the resources available to me so I can teach most effectively.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
I just finished The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I found it to be inspiring, thought provoking and a great read for a teacher’s summer list!

What’s the best advice you ever received?

One of my many mentors once told me that a child comes to us with many hidden gifts and treasures, and it is our job as educators to guide and encourage that child to bring those gifts forth and share them with the world. As Maria Montessori once wrote, “Free the child’s potential and you will transform him into the world.”

How I Teach

This Colorado music teacher doesn’t want to stifle the noise — or students’ creativity

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Considering that music teacher Justin Bankey describes his teaching style as “structured goofiness,” it’s not surprising that he doesn’t always jump in when his students are noisy or distracted. Often, he says, those are the moments that spark the greatest creativity.

Bankey, who teaches at Cactus Valley Elementary School in the Garfield School District in western Colorado, talked to Chalkbeat about his sense of humor, his extracurricular jobs and the conversation-starters he uses with students.

Bankey is one of 20 educators who were selected for the state’s new Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet. The group provides input to officials at the Colorado Department of Education on the impact of education policies in the classroom. He’s also twice been named his school’s “Teacher of the Year” by colleagues in his building.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Music teacher Justin Bankey dressed as a magician

Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher in a roundabout way. I went into college double-majoring in music and psychology in hopes of going into music therapy. My vocal scholarship allowed for music performance and/or music education, and the deeper I became involved in my education classes, the more I realized that I enjoyed the education aspect. I also started to reflect on all the wonderful teachers I had and how those teachers influenced me.

What does your classroom look like?
A large rectangle, and some other stuff. Oh, you want to know about the other stuff? I surround the students with pictures and words that involve music: posters of composers, pictures of musical symbols, a musical word wall, a wall devoted to the work that students create, whiteboards, pictures of instruments split into families or orchestral positions, tables to set instruments on or micro keyboards for my piano lab, musical rugs, chairs and a projector in the middle. The heart of my operation is my sound system: CD player, amp, equalizer and a computer to run sound and slides. Also, two of my large walls move so my room can open up as the stage we use for performances on either the gym or cafeteria side.

If you can picture the most awesome music room imaginable and then… look next door. I’m joking. I think it is a wonderful room. We are lucky to have it, but if I had the money I can imagine some pretty cool stuff for the students.

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my __________. Why?
My sense of humor. I can’t imagine not laughing at some point in the day, either because of students, friends and colleagues… or just because humor enriches everything like music does!

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach?
One of my favorite lessons to teach is my piano lab. I love to integrate technology whenever I can. The piano lab uses the iPad and an application called Piano Maestro, along with a two-octave keyboard. The students get to work at their own pace, and it has so many facets. I like to think of all these uses as stackable lessons. It’s a culmination of what they are learning in class and transferring that knowledge to a hands-on activity. I can also use it in more specific ways like rhythm help, reading the staves, understanding the keyboard, etc.

It also keeps track of the students’ progress so we can use it every year in school. The keyboard knowledge will also lend itself to composing using other technology in the future. I’m excited about the plans for all this awesome technology, but not as excited as the students when they see the lab set up.

How did you come up with the idea?
I learned about it at the Colorado Music Educators Conference. I got in contact with a teacher at a private school that uses it (I think in Texas), and I also got in contact with the application people themselves.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand your lesson?
I am relentless with understanding because so much of what I teach is dependent on the last step. The great thing is that these steps circle around so each student has many chances for understanding.

One of the bonuses of my teaching position is that I teach the same lesson to multiple classes (4 sections of each grade level). If I miss some students in one class, I can adjust for the next class. Then for those students that didn’t understand the first time, we break it down in steps until they do understand, and then catch them back up.

I also really enjoy having students help each other out. They are the great equalizer. I also have an open door policy for any students that want or need extra time.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
I like to use some tools that I’ve learned over the years like an all class attention-getter. I say “Get into the…” and they answer “Zone!” I use some golden oldies like clapping a short rhythmic phrase, and the students repeat the phrase. I keep track of how well the students are doing by marks on my board. If they see me marking in the good they say “Oh yeah!”, but if they see me marking in the bad the say “ahhhh!” in a sad voice and this will get their attention also.

Then again, I am a music teacher and a bit of noise in the background is what I do! I understand that being off task sometimes cultivates the creativity I hope for so I just have to watch it grow instead of stifling it… within reason.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them?
One way is being out in the community at different events so that students see you out of school. I referee football for all ages so I get to see families more often. I take a minute here or there to talk with students about weekend plans, how families are doing, and favorite sports (which is always interesting because everyone knows I am a Seahawks fan in Bronco country). I announce at our high school basketball games where I see former students or students whose siblings I teach. I work at the pool during the summer so I get to see them there, too.

What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
I take time in the morning to greet them on the way in and/or after school to wish them a great evening. I like to ask them about new haircuts, clothes, new lingo: “Did you know that ‘throwing shade’ was what I used to call a ‘burn’?!”

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
I cannot think of just one memorable time because so much of my contact is very positive so it reinforces a lot of what I do. But I also know that through those contacts with families my teaching does not go in a straight line. Students and students’ families help change the direction of my teaching for the better every day because I am soaking in that outside stimuli.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
I love sci-fi/fantasy (Clive Barker, George R.R. Martin, etc.) and/or a good detective/thriller book (James Patterson, Lee Child, etc.)

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is stepping into a big world of opportunities! Try and try again. Gosh, so many little tidbits of advice along the way.