Local educators: Streamlining diplomas holds promise of better long-term outcomes

Apr. 26—ANDERSON — While acknowledging that a state Department of Education proposal to streamline the number of high school diplomas could create confusion for students in mapping out their graduation pathways, local educators expressed belief that the potential long-term benefits would outweigh immediate concerns.

"I think it's going to be beneficial to our students and to all the students across the state," said Eric Davis, assistant superintendent at Anderson Community Schools. "It's going to allow them to have more opportunities to take part in work-based learning, take part in apprenticeships. It's really going to allow them schedule that's going to be more flexible and more conducive to what they plan to do after they graduate from high school."

The Indiana Department of Education's proposal, announced last month, would align the diplomas presented at commencement ceremonies with the state's current graduation pathways. It would also reflect principles outlined in the Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed dashboard, which include career and postsecondary readiness, work ethic and financial literacy.

Essentially, students could pursue an Indiana GPS diploma — a more customized version of the current Core 40 diploma — or an Indiana GPS Diploma Plus. The latter diploma would require additional coursework to earn a specific vocational credential as well as a work-based learning experience.

"The overall goal is to try to make the high school experience more relevant for our graduates," said Mark Hall, superintendent at South Madison Community Schools Corp. "I think it's going to give a lot of our kids flexibility as they navigate through high school."

Hall said the state's proposal will likely evolve, with at least two public comment periods planned before the end of the summer. The State Board of Education will also consider adjustments later this year.

Indiana's current graduation requirements are scheduled to phase out in 2028, meaning updated requirements for the Class of 2029 — the state's current seventh graders — will need to be in place. State education officials have discussed the upcoming changes as an opportunity to "rethink" the high school experience and orient it more toward immediate vocational readiness.

"We have an incredible opportunity to help every student find their purpose, know their value and understand the possibilities for their life's path," Katie Jenner, Indiana's secretary of education, said in a release outlining the proposal. "This means allowing students the flexibility to experience work-based learning, increase their educational attainment by earning a credential and personalize their journey to achieve their unique goals."

Concern has been expressed that the proposal's emphasis on work-based learning experiences could exacerbate an already significant decline in college enrollment in the state. According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, about 53% of the state's graduating seniors went straight to college in 2021, the lowest rate in at least 15 years.

Local educators said apprehension about prioritizing skills more suited to short-term job placement at the expense of lifelong knowledge is valid. But, they noted, providing students with as many ideas as possible for their post-high school plans carries great value as well.

"We want students to have many different opportunities and not just look at one area they may be thinking about," Davis said. "It's very difficult for someone who's a junior or senior in high school to really plan everything out for the rest of their lives. I think we need to expose them to many different pathways and college and career options while they're in high school."

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