By a 7-4 vote, the Indiana State Board of Education has approved new high school graduation pathways. The board took several hours of testimony Wednesday from dozens of stakeholders who mostly asked the 11-member body to vote no. The pathways are designed to give students "tailored" options for a diploma that doesn’t necessarily involve passing standardized tests, but allow students to gain in-demand skills. It is part of a larger effort by state lawmakers and officials to better align education outcomes with needs of the work force.
Most of those who testified Wednesday opposed the plan and asked for the board to delay the vote while the effects of implementation were reassessed and more input was gathered from K-12 educators. Board Vice-Chair and Southern Wells Elementary School Principal Cari Whicker joined board members Maryanne McMahon, who is an assistant superintendent with Avon Community School Corp., Steve Yager, who previously served as superintendent for Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, former Yorktown Community Schools superintendent, in voting against the proposal.
"I look at the unintended consequences of too little time, or too little reflection, or too little discussion, or too little details, and the harm that could come to the very students that we seek to benefit," Whicker said just before the final vote. "In the six years I’ve been on the board, I think of how very rarely this many people come together in agreement from across the state. And when I look at the superintendents and principals and teachers who are the experts in the field asking us for the respect for the extra time — and asking us to fill in the blanks — they deserve that."
Board Member Vince Bertram, who serves as chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based STEM-focused education pathway advocacy nonprofit Project Lead The Way Inc., voted in favor of the measure so it wouldn’t be sent back to state lawmakers. "I would rather us take control of it right now and deal with it then have it mandated by the Indiana General Assembly," he said. "It’s not perfect, but I also think its going to be very important for us to come together on the implementation of it around flexibility and take full advantage of the opportunities in front of us. Because, I agree. If there’s no action, there will likely be action, and it might not be as favorable as we could create it on our own."
In statements issued by the SBOE following the approval, a group of executives from Ball State University, Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Southern Indiana said "in sum, we support the graduation pathway recommendations. They increase the rigor and expectations for our Indiana high school students. We conversely also recognize that implementation of these standards will be critical moving forward."
McCormick issued a statement after the vote that read: "although disappointed in the vote, I’m extremely proud of our K-12 colleagues. They continue to be tireless advocates for our children and have remained student focused throughout this process. It is clear our Indiana educators are committed to being part of a solution to workforce and higher education concerns. 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."
The General Assembly charged the SBOE with creating a subcommittee to craft the pathways, which were then discussed and approved by the board. The board says it gathered input from hundreds of stakeholders over the past year. The approval means the new structure will be set in motion for incoming freshman statewide in 2019.
You can connect to more about the approved pathway framework by clicking here.