Indiana State Board of Education delays diploma overhaul

The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to delay adoption of stricter new diploma standards amid worries from parents and educators that the overhaul could limit the career potential of students who are struggling to find their way in the world.

"We're talking about 14- and 15-years-olds and not kids that are wizened and have a great career path set in front of them," said Todd Bess of the Indiana Association of School Principals.

The proposed standards would have eliminated a fine arts requirement while beefing up math requirements for some. Meanwhile, the number of diplomas offered would have been narrowed, including the elimination of a "general" high school diploma in favor of a "workforce ready" diploma.

Members of the board showed concern about a number of the proposed changes. But in particular they balked at the idea of eliminating the general high school diploma.

"I'm thinking we just need to take a step back and make sure that what we're doing is best for kids in the classroom," said Steve Yager, a former school district superintendent from the Fort Wayne area who also proposed the delay.

School principals also complained that new math standards would require hiring additional teachers. The state is currently facing a teacher shortage, especially in the math and science fields.

For months, Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz and state higher education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers had worked on developing the diploma changes after the Legislature ordered a review in 2014, said board spokesman Marc Lotter.

Ritz said she "wrestled" with many of the same issues that were raised Wednesday.

"They are not new topics," Ritz said. "We're just going to do further refinement, making sure we have clarity."

A resolution approved by the board Wednesday calls for reinstatement of the general diploma while also requesting that others be renamed in ways that won't "label or limit" the "future educational and career options" of students. The board also requested an analysis of how much the new standards will cost schools.

Diploma standards weren't the only matter addressed by the board Wednesday. Students who took the 2015 ISTEP test using a computer will also be cut a small break after a review found the computerized test was more difficult than the written version.

Eligible students will receive between one and nine bonus points on their test, officials said. The disparity between testing methods was just the latest trouble that has plagued the ISTEP this year. Test scores — usually released in early fall — have still not been distributed.

And Ritz for months has warned that many more students will fail the 2015 ISTEP exam because of more difficult state standards, which were created after Republican legislators and Pence withdrew Indiana from national Common Core standards last year. She has called for teachers and schools to not be penalized for low scores, which are a factor used to determine school ratings and teacher pay.

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