A proposal at the state level to drop fine arts and foreign languages as high school graduation requirements and add more math credits is meeting opposition by some local educators, parents and students.

The plan is not being implemented right now but could go into effect beginning with the class of 2022, which would be those students entering high school in the 2018-19 school year. The State Board of Education plans to continue to study the issue and the impact the changes could have including the possible increased costs for schools to hire more math teachers and the effect on special needs students.

The state board rejected the proposal during a meeting last week but will revisit it in April.

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Along with the change in requirements, the proposal also renames and restructures the state’s current diplomas. Instead of offering a general diploma, Core 40, Academic Honors and Technical Honors, there would be three levels of diplomas — College and Career Ready, Indiana Honors and Workforce Ready.

The number of required credits needed for each diploma would increase, and there would be other new requirements, including a course in personal financial responsibility and a graduation capstone experience such as early-college classes or a workplace internship.

Greg Prange, principal of Seymour High School, said fine arts, including music, art and theater, and world languages would still be available for all students to take but would be considered elective classes. The change would really only impact those students working toward the honors diploma, he added.

“The current Core 40 does not require fine arts or world language,” he said. “But there are plenty of students now who take them as electives.”

He supports adding a personal financial responsibility course as a graduation requirement for all students.

“It should help students become more financially literate and be able to better handle their personal money situations,” he said.

What worries Prange the most about the change is adding more math requirements, especially for students on track to earn a general diploma or what would become the Workforce Ready diploma. He is in favor of giving students flexibility in math that pertains to their real-world experience and applications, rather than a prescribed math subject.

“The fear is that students who struggle in math now will continue to struggle without a change in method of delivery or them seeing more relevance to what they are to learn,” he said. “Simply more of the same will not ultimately help the students who are suffering at this point.”

But if more academic requirements are mandated, the elective courses will suffer, he added. Teachers and students are already spread thin, with the course loads and other responsibilities they have now, he said.

At Seymour High School, block scheduling allows students the opportunity to take more than just the required Core 40 classes. Students can take at least 56 credits during their four years, which gives them flexibility to take several types of electives.

“High school is supposed to be a time when students can experience different languages and showcase their talents in fine arts,” he said.

Sadie Gonzalez, an SHS graduate, attended college and now has a high-paying job with a local industrial manufacturer. She credits her success to receiving a well-rounded education and the flexibility to take a variety of classes.

“I received a great public education in Seymour, but that was because I was blessed to be in advanced math classes and four years of Spanish and four years of art,” she said. “Improve the curriculum, resources and teaching methods we have now rather than reducing a child’s opportunity for growth.”

It’s possible and beneficial to teach math concepts in art and vice versa, by reinforcing education, not reducing it, she said.

Pete Burgmeier of Seymour is the father of two sons, one a current high school student. He said he applauds the proposal to drop requirements and hopes to see the proposal pass.

“It allows freedom for parents, counselors and students to decide,” he said. “Government has no business in my son’s education.”

Burgmeier said he fully supports students learning foreign languages and taking fine arts, but he doesn’t support the “required status.”

Joe Sheffer, principal at Brownstown Central High School, said he is “adamantly opposed,” to the proposed diploma changes and is glad it hasn’t passed. Like Prange, he is concerned with the ramifications of adding more math requirements.

“Math is a diploma changer, as it often dictates which diploma a student receives,” he said. “The addition of extra math would also cause a staffing issue and a financial burden to our school corporation.”

Just because more math would be added doesn’t mean other subjects will be taken away, however, he added.

“Our students would still be taking world languages and fine arts,” he said. “We would not be removing any electives.”

But the changes would dramatically impact special needs students, who would be required to take more math classes, he added.

Prange said along with transitioning from the current end-of-course assessment exams to the new ISTEP 10+, which involves more strategic thinking and problem solving, it will be difficult for non-honors students to attain a basic diploma. It also could negatively impact schools’ graduation rates, he added.

Although math is an important subject for all students, Prange said, it also can isolate those who aren’t as good in it as their peers, making it more difficult for them to feel successful.

“If you can understand and can process the class, you succeed,” he said. “If you experience failure, you shut down, don’t try and continue to experience failure. Unlocking and turning around that disenfranchised student can be difficult.”

By raising the academic standards for the next generation of high school graduates, Prange said, the hope is they will be better prepared for life after high school.

“Corporations, colleges and political leaders have determined that not enough of our students possess the skills necessary for the workforce or to enter college,” he said.

But he believes the changes are more for the benefit of colleges to recoup some of the tuition money they are losing through dual-credit programs.

Parent Chris Kaufman said continually raising standards is not the type of education reform the state needs.

“What we do need is true teaching of how today’s lessons are applicable in life,” he said. “Education of our children is not a competition. It is the most beneficial thing in a child’s life. Any attempt to require children to excel at subjects they don’t get or enjoy is counterproductive.”

At a glance

Indiana’s current general diploma would become the Workforce Ready diploma.

Requirements: 40 credits to include 8 credits in English/language arts; 6 to 8 credits in mathematics with all students taking a math course during each year; 4 credits is science; 4 credits in social studies; 8 credits in college and career readiness including personal financial responsibility and a graduation capstone (early college credits, a workplace internship or workforce certification); 3 credits in health and wellness; and 5-7 credits in electives.

The Core 40 diploma would become the College and Career Ready diploma

Requirements: 44 credits to include 8 credits in English/language arts; 8 credits in mathematics; 6 credits in science; 6 credits in social studies; 3 credits in health and wellness; 8 credits in college and career readiness including personal financial responsibility and a graduation capstone (early college credits, a workplace internship or workforce certification) and 5 credits in electives.

The Academic Honors Diploma will become the Indiana Honors Diploma

Requirements: 48 credits with graduates meeting all College and Career Ready diploma requirements, earn a cumulative GPA of at 3.0, earn a grade of C or better in all courses and complete at least two of the following:

1. Advanced Coursework: Earn at least 4 credits with a letter grade of B or better in Advanced Placement and take corresponding exams.

2. Arts and culture: Complete at least 6 credits in the same world language and 2 fine arts credits

3. College credit: Earn at least 6 college credits with a letter grade of B or better.

4. Career: Complete an industry-recognized certification

5. College entrance exam: Earn a minimum composite ACT or total SAT score

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.