Our state superintendent, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, visited Bloomington November 9. Here are some takeaways from the conversation that she had with educators and parents.
1) There is a slow-motion train wreck impending in Indiana in the form of a drop in graduation rates. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the U.S. Department of Education will not count Indiana’s general diploma toward the state’s graduation rates. ESSA requires that the most commonly given diploma be the one that is counted. Indiana’s practice of awarding differentiated diplomas (general, core 40, honors) is a liability for the state. McCormick says that the general diploma is actually more stringent than some other states’ diplomas that have been approved, but the U.S. DOE is proving inflexible. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has applied for a waiver but does not expect to receive it.
McCormick asked us, “Do you want those 9000 kids [currently receiving the general diploma] unemployed and unemployable across the nation?” She also said that under ESSA, because the general diploma would not count, 275 Indiana high schools would receive Ds and Fs. “Do we have room for improvement? Yes. But this is not Indiana. You need to assess us fairly.”
One possible solution, according to McCormick, would require legislative action. Indiana legislators could make all the diplomas the general diploma, with the other, more demanding diplomas just a version of the general diploma. So far, the legislature has not seen this as urgent.
2) Another result of ESSA is that there will be two grades, one from the federal government and one from the state. Imagine: two possibly different letter grades, with two possibly conflicting sets of consequences. McCormick believes the logical response to this is to accept the federal grade as the state grade.
McCormick stated she wants to provide comprehensive and targeted support for failing schools, but reminded the audience that Indiana has moved to a four-year, from a six-year, cycle. Any school that receives 4 F’s in a row under the state grading rubric is at risk of state takeover. School districts in financial distress are also at risk of takeover.
3) There is a major problem to solve in the form of diplomas that the federal government won’t count under ESSA, but the State Board of Education (SBOE) has been focused on the graduation pathways proposal. The panel which developed the proposal was mainly composed of professionals in higher education and business. There was a high school counselor, but no high school principal. Here are some consequences of the proposal, if it is approved.
Other questions the proposal brings up:
The SBOE is accepting comments on the graduation pathways proposal through December 2. Since this is such a complicated proposal, presenting concise comments poses a challenge. Here are possible avenues:
*Voice concern about the potential negative impact the plan would have on graduation rates.
*Encourage SBOE to consider diploma types as the Graduation Pathway.
*Reinforce the idea that much of the concern expressed by workforce and higher ed can be addressed through curriculum and instruction.
*Ignoring/dismissing the constraints associated with implementation of such a plan is irresponsible.
*Consideration needs to be given to students who are not in the high 25-30 percent of performers.
You can e-mail your comments to the State Board of Education at the following address: email@example.com. It is also possible to comment in person on this issue at the SBOE work session on Tuesday, December 5, 1 p.m., in the Indiana Government Center South Auditorium at 302 West Washington Street in Indianapolis. Public comment will be limited to one hour total, three minutes per person. It appears that the SBOE intends to vote on the proposal in a meeting the following day, December 6.