New Expectations Threaten Graduation Rates

New Expectations Threaten Graduation Rates by The Editorial Board

The Indiana State Board of Education voted to change the graduation requirements starting with the class of 2023. The vote was taken on December 6; 7-4 was the result. Those who voted against changing the requirements were a teacher from Wells County, Cari Whicker; a former superintendent, Steve Yager; vice chairwoman, Maryanne McMahon; and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jennifer McCormick.

Those who voted for the new requirements were Vince Bertram, Byron Ernest, David Freitas, Gordon Hendry, Kathleen Mote, Tony Walker and B.J. Watts.

The naysayers tried for hours to convince the seven people who voted yes it was a bad idea to change the graduation requirements. Whicker said they should dedicate more time to get into the details.

The board decided that the class of 2023, currently seventh graders, and everyone following them, will be required to earn a Core 40 Diploma, complete volunteer work or an internship and show college-readiness by obtaining an Academic Honors Diploma or meeting the college-ready standards on the SAT or ACT in order to graduate.

The Graduation Pathways panel suggests that schools start introducing the new requirements with the graduating class of 2019. For all of next year’s high school students, completing the new requirements will be optional, but for the freshmen of the 2019-2020 school year, working toward the new requirements will be necessary.

School administrators are concerned about making new programs in such a short time. The students will have their entire high school career to complete the requirements, but some will want to start as freshmen, which gives schools fewer than two years to get organized.

Completing all expectations of the Graduation Pathways Panel will not be an easy task for most students. Those who choose to work toward the Academic Honors Diploma as their college-readiness requirement will have to start working toward it their first year of high school.

Workplaces that offer internships might have to turn away interested students if they have more than needed. Even large volunteer organizations will run out of positions.

It is not mandated that students have a consistent volunteer job. They might be able to piece together hours of collecting cans, cleaning parks or volunteering at churches or festivals. The new requirements say students must participate in meaningful volunteer experiences.

It is unclear how many hours of volunteer work will be required or how schools will ensure that students are actually volunteering. Will they ask for a note from a parent or will students have to ask a director to fill out a form that acknowledges their presence? Will they make students go through specified programs, or can they track independent volunteer work from over the summer?

While some members of the Graduation Pathways panel and board of education say the new requirements will provide students with skills necessary to enter the workforce, others are concerned the graduation rates will drop. Parents, especially those who live in rural areas, are afraid their children won’t be able to find work or internships easily, even with the involvement of school programs.

Creating new budgets for schools to help their students find volunteer work is unlikely. These requirements have not even been put into place yet and they already have students, parents and schools boards worried.

The Graduation Pathways panel suggests that school boards introduce the new requirements next year in order to make the transition easier. While this might help administrators decide how they will handle enforcing the expectations for the freshmen of 2019, it will only cause students stress. They will compete for limited internships and worry about scoring well on the SAT.

There are currently 29,628 students in Fort Wayne Community Schools alone. Not all of those students can place well on a college-readiness exam, and the community does not offer enough volunteer opportunities for everyone in the graduating class of 2023.

School administrators will try their best to pair students with the resources they need to complete the new requirements, but it seems that with everything expected of them, some students will either not be able to graduate or will drop out.

It is preposterous that the Graduation Pathways panel expects all students to pass a college-readiness exam before graduating from high school. That’s one more test educators will have to teach to. In addition to passing a college entrance exam as a high school graduation requirement, students will be expected to learn something about the workforce through volunteer experiences. This is one of the easier expectations to fulfill, but even so, a student who gets an internship learning welding should not be required to also take the SAT. Some careers do not require a college education, yet the panel wants students to demonstrate college and workforce-readiness so they can be prepared for whatever path they choose to take.

The panel’s goal is admirable; nonetheless, it is unnecessary that high school students take college exams and participate in volunteer experiences in addition to completing the Core 40 standards simply to graduate from high school.

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