Students could follow different pathways to graduation


Dubois County educators are wary of a change that they said could overwhelm high schoolers on the path to graduation.

The Indiana State Board of Education’s Graduation Pathways Panel — a committee established by the board and tasked with defining a new set of graduation requirements — approved a recommendation Nov. 7 for the new criteria that the full State Board of Education will vote on in the coming months, which includes not only a high school diploma but also the completion of measures that assess students’ employability skills and postsecondary-ready competencies.

“I think that the intent of this is good, but it’s a little overwhelming the way that they have it proposed,” said DeeAnn Wylam, a Forest Park High School guidance counselor. Wylam and fellow Forest Park counselor Audrey Fleck led a discussion on the topic at the Southeast Dubois School Board meeting Nov. 6 before the pathways panel presented its final recommendation, which included minor revisions to the proposal draft discussed at the school board meeting.

Students would have options if the proposed graduation pathways are approved by the Indiana State Board of Education, and the changes would take place beginning with the class of 2023.

The document recommends that in addition to earning a diploma, students will be required to demonstrate employability skills through a number of different avenues. Some include project-based learning such as completing a course capstone, research project or Advanced Placement Capstone Assessment. Other options include service-based requirements including the completion of a “meaningful volunteer or civic engagement experience,” a school-based activity such as a co-curricular or extracurricular activity or a sport for at least one academic year. Completing work-based learning through an after-school job or completing an internship would also satisfy the requirement.

On top of that, students would also need to demonstrate postsecondary-ready competencies by achieving certain scores on tests like the SAT, ACT, and ASVAB, or by holding a state- and industry-recognized credential, certification or apprenticeship. Students would also have the option of earning a C average or better in six or more credits of a career and technical education course sequence or by earning a C average or better in three Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit courses to complete the postsecondary-ready competencies requirement.

Current high school graduation requirements include passing the ISTEP exam in 10th grade as well as end-of-course assessments in Algebra and English and earning a diploma.

Jasper High School Principal Brian Wilson said he believes part of the issue that brought the graduation pathways changes to the forefront of discussion is that universities and colleges feel like they’re getting too many students who are unprepared for the rigors of a college course load, a product he said that comes from sending kids off to college even though they might be better served through post-secondary options such as a certification program or trade school.

Northeast Dubois Principal Tina Fawks said she believes the recommended changes have some benefits, mainly giving students options other than a high-stakes test to determine whether they will graduate. She said another positive comes in the form of the pathways’ emphasis on career exploration and career and technical education.

“The concern I have at this point is our lower-performing students, our special ed population, how this is going to impact them?” Fawks said.

Fawks expressed concerns that the state’s general diploma — which is often earned by students with special needs or those who don’t plan on attending college after high school — will disappear, making it harder for those demographics to graduate.

Wilson echoed the other county educators and recognized the new pathways would have benefits if approved, but said some of the panel’s good intentions are misguided. He said he isn’t sure if requiring a student who is pursuing an Academic Honors diploma to complete additional activities and work is a good idea. He also said the school’s guidance and main offices would have to engage in a lot of record-keeping and collection that will create a big additional burden to their staffs’ workload.

Many students are already engaging in the recommended requirements for various other reasons, he said, but not all are. He also voiced concerns about the ambiguity of the pathways panel’s requirements.

“Again, I think that people have good intentions when making these changes, I’m just not exactly sure the outcomes are going to be what they expect and there’s going to be some other ancillary issues that we’ll have to deal with that will be pretty challenging at the building levels,” Wilson said, “if the proposal is accepted.”

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