Indiana lawmakers scrap plan to let schools count high school equivalency as a diploma

A panel of Indiana lawmakers walked back a potential pilot program for high schools Monday after concerns were raised about allowing students who don’t receive a diploma to graduate.

The pilot would have allowed seniors behind on credits to be counted as graduates if they pass a high school equivalency exam and take steps toward career training.

It would have been a big change since students who earn their equivalency, Indiana’s version of the GED, are currently considered dropouts. The idea passed through the Senate earlier this month, but the House education committee changed the proposal Monday to no longer affect schools’ graduation rates.

“I thought it would be more productive for us to see the results before we immediately allow flexibility for that,” said Republican committee chair Bob Behning.

Lawmakers also limited the pilot to only two districts — Washington and Warren townships — and narrowed down the career training that would be required of students in the program.

The committee approved the amended bill 11-0, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Last week, supporters of the pilot argued that it’s better for students to leave with a high school equivalency and a workforce credential than to walk away empty-handed. They wanted schools to have an incentive to provide those services by no longer having those students count against the graduation rate.

“The concept of having students demonstrate academic competency on the (high school equivalency) exam is truly the goal of this program,” Lara Pastore, assistant supervisor of Washington Township Adult Education, told lawmakers last week. “I think the workforce needs it.”

Pastore and other supporters pointed to a recent Chalkbeat investigation that raised concerns over the number of students marked as “home-schoolers,” which experts say could be disguising students who are dropping out.

Those who opposed the high school equivalency proposal raised concerns that adding another pathway for students to graduate would lower the bar for Indiana’s students, arguing that the equivalency exam does not carry the same value as a diploma. The Indiana Department of Education said schools can already help students earn their equivalency without changing the law.

However, supporters say the proposed legislation would allow qualifying seniors to stay in school to work toward their high school equivalency, meaning schools could continue providing the wrap-around services some students rely on, Pastore said, such as transportation and lunch.

The proposal would also let schools build the student’s schedule to accommodate holding an apprenticeship or working toward a recognized certification.