Indiana’s new diplomas may offer a transcript seal for college students

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Indiana is doubling down on its bet: Work experience can better prepare students for success after high school than a prescribed series of courses.

The state is revising high school graduation requirements to de-emphasize college attendance as the pinnacle of educational attainment and instead prioritize rewarding students for their willingness to work in the workplace .

Beginning with the Class of 2029, students would earn the standard Graduates Prepared to Succeed (GPS) diploma or the workplace-oriented GPS Diploma Plus, under the state’s plan, which would end Core 40 degrees, including the Academic Honors degree.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, Indiana Department of Education officials announced changes to the original draft proposal of the new requirements. These revisions allow students to earn seals on their transcripts, indicating they are ready for enrollment, employment or enlistment.

But students would earn the stamps on top of the proposed new degrees. And the core of those diplomas would remain the same: to obtain the higher diploma, students would have to gain at least 75 hours – and as many as 2,000 hours – of work experience.

Since state officials unveiled the original blueprint for new diploma rules in March, the plan has drawn skepticism from educators who say the proposed diplomas leave out currently required subjects such as world language, social studies, advanced math and fine arts in favor of work experience.

They also raised concerns about the state’s plan to eliminate the Academic Honors degree, which is tied to college attendance. Such a move would effectively force students to choose between a degree that could be considered less rigorous by universities or one that requires significantly more work experience.

The seals are the state’s attempt to address those concerns, though state board members are pushing Education Department officials to provide more specificity about what each seal entails.

For example, to earn the “enrollment ready” seal, students would have to complete courses tied to minimum admissions requirements for most state institutions of higher education, according to the department’s presentation Wednesday. Students could earn multiple stamps.

With the seals and the three levels of the GPS Plus diploma, there would be 32 diploma options for students, in addition to the federally required alternative diploma. There are currently six, including the general diploma and the alternative diploma.

A screenshot of proposed degree requirements for graduates in the state of Indiana.
A screenshot of proposed degree requirements for graduates in the state of Indiana. (Chalkbeat Staff)

Despite the concession, officials said there is broad agreement that the traditional high school will need to change in the near future to become more flexible and relevant, and that students can learn many important workplace skills.

“We’re all trying to think about how we can make high school as valuable as possible. That is the big question,” says Education Minister Katie Jenner.

Board members plan to vote on the new degree requirements in September. State law requires Indiana to adopt new requirements by December.

Parents, teachers, board members respond to diploma rules

During the board’s public comment, several parents shared concerns about how the proposed new requirements would impact their current high school students.

“When companies and colleges sort through resumes, the resumes that meet the highest standards are shuffled to the top,” says Christie Toops. “If a university sees a GPS diploma, where will that rank in terms of other applicants from other states?”

Foreign language teachers also said their subject would become optional under both new GPS degrees – currently required for the Academic Honors degree – to the detriment of students who want to go to university, work in global industries or enlist in the army.

Terry Spradlin of the Indiana School Boards Association said the organization supported the flexibility of the new degrees, but called on the board to reinstate some version of the Academic Honors degree.

Board members have generally expressed support for the proposed rule changes for degrees. On Wednesday, however, some said department officials should provide a clear roadmap of the courses required at each level and for each degree path.

But board member Scott Bess, founder of Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis, said colleges look at the courses students complete, not their degree type, and that the courses associated with an Academic Honors degree wouldn’t disappear on their own but because the diploma does not do that. .

He said he would oppose returning to a checklist of courses students must complete to earn a degree.

Board member BJ Watts, executive director of the OptIN career training program at Evansville schools, said work experience is very valuable but may not be necessary for every student. Moreover, he said he might not be able to help all 1,500 seniors find jobs.

Board member Pat Mapes, superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern schools, noted that flexibility is needed for students who may, for example, move from an employment-oriented path to an enrollment-oriented path.

Mapes said he suggested Hamilton Southeastern could offer its own Academic Honors degree for students who want to go to college.

The department is taking public comments online about the degree requirements and has received more than 4,000 comments to date.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at [email protected].