State advocacy groups want more time to review graduation requirements

by Mandy McLaren, Louisville Courier Journal –

Hours before the Kentucky Board of Education is scheduled to vote on new high school graduation requirements, statewide groups are continuing calls for the 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 — a new version of which was released just two days ago.

“Given the high stakes of the proposal, and the lack of evidence of success of the model elsewhere, at a minimum (the state board) should take time for further review and engage other states to learn from their experiences,” Prichard Committee Executive Director Brigitte Blom Ramsey and Sherron Jackson of the Kentucky NAACP wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis revealed his latest proposal for new graduation requirements Monday evening. Lewis called the new plan a “step back” and said it includes several changes intended to address the public’s concerns.

The new version scaled back a transition readiness requirement that critics said would have penalized students who attend under-resourced schools in small and rural districts. Under the new proposal, students will still have to prove they’re ready for college or a career, but the standards they must meet are less rigorous.

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.

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.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Kentucky School Boards Association applauded the changes but said it wants to “ensure state minimum graduation requirements help districts raise student achievement while not creating undue barriers.”

“With the meeting so close, we believe the state Board of Education should defer its scheduled vote to allow time for the Department of Education to analyze the impact on students and districts,” the group said.

In a separate statement, the Prichard Committee also asked for a delay, citing confusion over the new changes and lingering concerns expressed by educators, students and school leaders at a recent public hearing on the requirements.

The Kentucky Department of Education received more than 200 written comments on the issue, the vast majority of which called for the state board to delay its vote. The Courier Journal received the comments under the state’s public records law.

Most of the written comments were related to world language courses and did not address provisions scrutinized by the statewide groups. Kentucky does not require students to take world languages and the new proposal would not add such a requirement. The state’s suggested pre-college curriculum, however, recommends students take two world language courses.

Many other comments expressed concerns related to equity of resources and the potential impact of the new requirements on students with special needs.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Mandy McLaren: 502-582-4525; mmclaren@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @mandy_mclaren. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/mandym.