Indiana policymakers are focusing a lot of their attention lately on the different diploma options offered to Hoosier high school students. After the original draft for new choices came down from a committee of educators and business leaders, members of the public had a lot to say about he proposed changes – so much so that the State Board of Education decided to send them back to the drawing board. Over the next two weeks, we’re taking a deep dive into some of the ideas that have been brought forth, why they are so controversial and what they mean for preparing Indiana’s students to be college- and career-ready.
As they stand right now, Indiana’s draft diplomas require a student to complete more credits than previously demanded, including an increase in math credits.
The current General Diploma requires a student to take four credits of math, or two years. The Core 40 diploma – which is intended for students wanting to prepare for higher education of some kind – diploma requires six credits, or three years of math.
In rewriting the diploma requirements, Associate Commissioner for Higher Education Jason Bearce says his colleagues felt increasing math credits for all students would be necessary to help Indiana high school graduates succeed.
“We’re finding about a third of our Core 40 graduates are needing remediation once they go onto college, and about 2/3 of those students need remediation that graduate with that General Diploma,” Bearce says. “Both cases we think that we can do better.”
The new diplomas increase math credits to eight for the College and Career Ready diploma (four years of math) and six to eight credits for the Workforce Ready diploma (three to four years). Bearce says increasing the amount of math a student takes will help decrease the remediation rate.
“Taking math all four years of high school ensures that the math is fresh and in their minds and they’re ready for what’s going to be expected of them when they graduate high school and go on to college,” Bearce says. “But there’s a second part to this…it’s really important for the math students are expected to do to be relevant to the path that they want to be on.”
To make that math relevant, rather than requiring the same sequence of math classes the diplomas call for a student to choose a math pathway that fits their skill level and career ambitions:
These new math requirements worry some school administrators like Bluffton High School principal Steve Baker, who is worried about his current staff being able to meet demands of all students taking four years of math classes.
“I think it will require more math teachers, and if we’re going to require more math teachers, which teacher am I going to have to let go? Because it’s not balance-neutral on finances,” Baker says.
This is part of the argument many fine arts advocates are also making regarding the lack of requirements of fine arts credits – they say if schools are forced to restructure their staffs, fine arts teachers could be the first to go.
Another logistical concern about adding more math is the lack of flexibility it will create for students.
Baker uses Bluffton senior Jacob Ehle as an example of how this could be problematic. Ehle failed Algebra II, a requirement for his Core 40 diploma, so he retook the course. He will now graduate on time with the diploma he chose.
But Baker says the new diploma requirements could cause a scheduling nightmare for a student like Ehle.
“He would have had to double up his math courses, which means now he’s in jeopardy of not earning a diploma at all,” Baker says. “Because he can’t just go down to the General Diploma at the end of your high school career. I’m not sure if students would be able to meet all those requirements.”
Bearce says the math pathways should be able to help students take classes on par with their abilities, rather than having all students try to complete the same courses.
This is one issue the new committee reworking the diplomas will look at as they prepare new drafts that will hopefully be ready by April.