Local school administrators not happy with new grad pathways

The Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) has approved new graduation pathways for Indiana’s high school students, which are intended to give all students the skills and experiences they will need to take the next step in their educational journeys and to secure good jobs.

However, local school officials say the move is too hasty and hasn’t been fully thought out, especially in regard to how schools will pay for it.

The new guidelines, developed by the Graduation Pathways Panel, an SBOE subcommittee, will be put into place beginning with the 2019 freshmen class. Rather than requiring every student to take and pass tests to graduate, the pathways approved Dec. 6 let students choose from a wide range of options tailored to their unique interests, abilities and aspirations after graduating high school.

“I am excited for the opportunities these new pathways will provide Hoosier students,” said Dr. Byron Ernest, chairman of the Graduation Pathways Panel. “They will go a long way to ensure our students are truly prepared for success in whatever they choose to pursue after high school.”

However, a statement from Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, who voted against the pathways, expresses her disappointment in the 7-4 vote to adopt them, while at the same time saying she is proud of her K-12 colleagues.

“It is clear our Indiana educators are committed to being part of a solution to workforce and higher education concerns,” McCormick states. “The department will continue working with our legislators, concentrating on successful implementation of the Graduation Pathways, and collaborating with all those who work on behalf of our students on a daily basis.”

Locally, Huntington County Community School Corporation administrators are not enthusiastic about the new pathways, saying the final vote was taken too soon.

“Nobody knows what the details are going to involve,” says HCCSC Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Chad Daugherty. “It was ramrodded through by the Department of Workforce Development and chamber people were talking about it, saying kids are not employable these days.”

Huntington North High School Principal Russ Degitz was part of a delegation that went to the SBOE meeting and spoke against the vote on the pathways. He says at the moment, it’s not a popular proposal in the education profession.

“I don’t think that anybody fundamentally opposes what the core and the mission of it is. I think everybody’s heart is in the right place, in terms of trying to best prepare graduates for life beyond high school,” Degitz says. “I think some of the issues and challenges is that it seemed to have gotten pushed through very, very quickly, maybe before some of the unintended consequences were fully measured.”

Degitz says school officials are not getting clear answers from the SBOE about several key questions. He gives, as example, that there is no clear direction about funding to support schools in administrating the pathways.

In addition, Degitz says the pathways begin with this year’s current seventh-graders, who will graduate in 2023, giving administrators little time to prepare. Eighth grade students are scheduled for classes the January before they begin their freshman year at the high school, which, for the 2023 Class, is only a year away. That amount of time creates a sense of urgency, Degitz says.

He told the board he was in favor of best preparing graduates and he endorsed accountability, both from students and school administration.

“My request of them was to delay the actual vote. It wasn’t to vote it down or say no to the plan, necessarily. It was, ‘Let’s hit the pause button,” he explains. “Let’s make sure that what we want this to do is what it’s going to do, instead of, ‘Well, let’s pass it and then we’ll figure it all out later.’ I just felt that was playing a little fast and loose and maybe being a little dangerous.”

Now that the pathways have been passed, Degitz says that the district will make the best of the situation and serve the students the best it can.”

“It will just produce a little extra challenge now,” he adds.

According to SBOE, highlights of Indiana’s New Graduation Pathways include:

• Individualization: The new pathways move from a one-size-fits-all approach to one where every student chooses a route to graduation that reflects their goals after commencement.

• Local Flexibility: The new pathways give schools and districts the flexibility to design and offer courses and experiences that are aligned to locally identified priorities and community needs.

• Relevancy: Because students will get to select the path that makes the most sense for their goals after high school, their high school experience is more relevant to them personally.

• Currency: The new pathways give students something of value and meaning to be used to help them succeed in the next step along their personal journey—whether it’s more education and training or a career.

• Workforce-aligned: The new pathways are designed to ensure today’s students gain the skills and traits they need to be successful in our rapidly-changing, modern econ- omy—including a strong academic foundation, intellectual curiosity and a passion for lifelong learning.

• Rigor: To address the skills gap and ensure all students are prepared to succeed, there is a  need to establish higher expectations for all students — with the foundational belief that every student is capable of achieving personal success.

These new pathways strike the right balance of higher expectations for all students with more individualized options to meet every student’s unique needs and goals.

Indiana’s new graduation pathways may be viewed online at in.gov/sboe.