Single Indiana diploma plan moves ahead with support of Republicans and Democrats

Indiana lawmakers are quickly pushing ahead a plan to combine the state’s four diplomas into one after federal education officials gave the green light last week — and it could take effect as early as this year.

The push for a single high school diploma comes after the state redesigned graduation standards, and it would also bring Indiana in line with recent changes to federal law.

But lawmakers are proposing to essentially still preserve the state’s four current diploma tracks, as four categories under the umbrella of a one diploma.

The “designations” would indicate whether students worked on a standard Core 40 track or opted to follow a less rigorous course of study based on the current general diploma. It would also show if students earned academic or technical honors.

The urgency to combine diplomas stems from a change in federal law that no longer counts the general diploma in the graduation rate, which would result in lower graduation rates for many schools. Graduation rate is a critical factor in high school A-F accountability grades, which can determine federal funding as well as state intervention.

This week the House and the Senate are expected to both approve a one-diploma plan, each with bipartisan support. That will allow the bills to advance to the next chamber during the second half of the legislative session.

House Bill 1426 passed the House on Monday, 84-5, and includes a provision that would also require the state board to create an “alternate” diploma for students with severe cognitive disabilities. More expansive than the Senate version, the bill would make a few other significant changes, including changing the state high school exam to a national college-entrance exam such as the SAT or ACT and removing the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer test to identify students for remediation. The bill next heads to the Senate.

Senate Bill 177 passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, and it now mirrors the diploma language in the House version. The Senate bill is expected to go up for a final vote early this week.

Only one bill will eventually become law. Because state policymakers have already indicated they want to move to a college-entrance exam as the high school test, the House bill is better positioned to move forward during the second half. If it becomes law, the diploma plan would take effect immediately, meaning students in the graduating class of 2018 would receive the new diploma.