Kentucky graduation rules approved by KBE

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Germanna CC graduation [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Germanna CC graduation [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kentucky Board of Education gave its final stamp of approval to a new set of high school graduation requirements on Wednesday, advancing broad changes intended to make the state’s diplomas meaningful again.

The measures were approved by a unanimous vote of the board’s nine present members. Amanda Stamper and Ben Cundiff were absent from the meeting.

(You can read the list of requirements in this story on our site.)

The changes, most of which will go into effect next year, give students greater flexibility to choose courses that suit their interests while also ensuring no Kentucky student graduates high school without basic reading or math skills, Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said.

But the changes represent a significant step back from what Lewis originally proposed and was approved by the board earlier this fall.

“It does raise the bar,” Lewis said. “But admittedly it does not raise the bar as high as I wanted it to.”

Lewis said the state education department chose to scale back its original proposal — releasing a new version on Monday — based on serious concerns related to funding equity.

The problem, as Lewis described to the board on Tuesday, is that whereas the state’s largest district, Jefferson County Public Schools, would have been able to provide students with at least 30 different ways to reach meet “transition readiness” requirements in the first proposal, other small or rural districts may only be able to provide two or three ways.

Those funding disparities would have penalized students who attend under-resourced schools, critics said. By making significant changes to the original proposal, Lewis said the department sought to address those concerns. Students will still have to prove they’re ready for college or a career, but the standards they must meet are less rigorous and easier for schools to implement.

Even “resource-starved schools” will be able to provide multiple ways for students to meet the new graduation requirements, Lewis said.

For example, students can now show they’re ready for a career by taking 4 credits worth of classes within a state-approved career pathway. This bar will be easier for students to meet than other options, such as earning an industry certification, though Lewis conceded that the easier route is “not as valuable” for a graduate’s employment or post-secondary education opportunities.

The new proposal also makes it easier for students to show they’re ready for college by taking dual credit courses. Under the original plan, students would have needed to earn a B or higher in a dual credit course to meet the requirement. Now, they would need to earn a C or higher.

Board members echoed Lewis’ tepid enthusiasm.

“Well it’s a fairly low bar,” Rich Gimmel said. “But at least it’s a bar.”

“It’s not as high of a bar as any one of us would like to have, but it’s higher than the one that currently exists,” Gary Houchens said. “And that’s a good thing.”

Despite the concessions, several groups had still asked for the state board to table its decision. The Kentucky School Boards Association, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and the Kentucky State Conference of NAACP Branches said the 11-member board should take further time to review the state’s proposal, given that it was released just two days prior.

But the board chose to press on, agreeing instead that urgent changes are needed — even if they’re not as sweeping as some had hoped.

The requirements are now divided into two main categories: graduation “prerequisites” and “qualifiers.” Students must meet the standard set for each category in order to graduate.

The changes will be phased in, with freshman entering high school next fall needing to meet most of the new requirements, with the entirety of the requirements in effect for all following classes.

The changes represent minimum requirements for Kentucky students. Local districts may set more rigorous graduation requirements of their own.

The new requirements will now be sent to the state legislature for final approval.

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Written by Mandy McLaren. Cross-posted from the
Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.

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