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New high school diploma proposal sparks discussion among state officials, community

Katie Jenner speaks into a microphone. Jenner is a White woman with long blonde hair below her shoulders.
Indiana Department of Education
Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner encouraged people to leave feedback about a proposal for new high school diploma requirements.

Indiana high school students could see changes to their diploma requirements as soon as the 2025-26 school year. The new diplomas are still proposals, but the state plans to approve the finalized changes this fall.

Data shared by the Indiana Department of Education shows 76 percent of Indiana students plan to pursue some form of higher learning after graduating high school. However, just 53 percent of students actually do.

The state spent more than a year working to address that gap and redesign graduation requirements to better prepare students for college or to enter the workforce. Now, state officials are listening to feedback on their proposals — the GPS and GPS Plus diplomas.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said students need to know their options after graduation and how to achieve them.

“How do we provide the best information for informed paths and decisions for our students? That’s our opportunity really as a state,” she said.

The new diplomas will replace the existing Core 40, academic and technical honors diplomas. The current Core 40 model would be replaced by the Flex 40. Under that model, students would still be required to take classes in certain areas, but they would have greater flexibility over which courses they use to satisfy those requirements.

For example, students could choose to take a career aptitude test or attend a job fair as two of the three requirements for career and postsecondary readiness. They could fulfill the work ethic requirement by getting a paid job outside of school or maintaining a 94 percent attendance rate.

Additionally, students who want to graduate with the GPS Plus diploma would also be required to complete between 75 and 2,000 hours of work-based learning.

Topics like math, English and science will still be required. Other topics like history, economics and foreign languages are not currently required under the proposal, but Jenner said they could be added as ways to fulfill some of the proposed subject areas.

For example, many foreign language teachers have spoken against the lack of credits awarded to students who take foreign language courses under the new proposal. Jenner said the IDOE may add foreign languages as a way to fulfill the proposed communication and collaboration requirement.

Parents and educators attended recent State Board of Education meetings to express their concerns about the changes. Many said they are worried about the rigor of the new diplomas and the availability of required internships.

“The proposed Flex 40 model lacks the necessary rigor, while the Flex 40 Plus is unobtainably rigorous for many students and challenging for numerous schools,” said Jennifer Smith-Margraf, vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “Rural and small school corporations may lack the resources necessary to provide students with the external work-based learning opportunities.”

There is also concern that colleges will prioritize students from other states who have traditional high school diplomas over Indiana graduates.

The IDOE is developing seals in an attempt to prevent that from happening. The certifications will complement the new diplomas and will indicate whether students are ready for employment, college enrollment or enlistment into the military.

The seals are still being created, but Jenner said the IDOE is working with colleges and universities, local businesses, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana National Guard to determine which skills and competencies each seal will require.

However, many educators asked the IDOE to keep academic honors diplomas to ensure colleges and universities have a standard way to measure Indiana graduates.

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Some educators are also worried the new diplomas will provide students with less flexibility to take courses outside their chosen pathway.

“Students should be able to take elective classes in which they are able to identify new talents and strengths, make social connections with peers who have shared interests and take chosen classes that increase their motivation to regularly attend school during the often-challenging transition from middle to high school,” said special education and language teacher Nina Price.

Price said some ways to fulfill specific requirements like those that say students must have at least a 3.0 GPA by the 10th grade and can only earn credit for classes with grades above “C” will especially burden students who have disabilities.

“The new diploma requirements penalize students with learning challenges,” Price said. “Moreover, students who have an [Individual Education Program] due to a health condition may not be able to meet the 94 percent attendance requirement, participate in a co-curricular or have an external paid job.”

Many people encouraged the IDOE to create checkpoints where students can reevaluate their course. They said students can change their minds between the beginning and end of high school, but they may feel stuck if no one ever discusses their progress.

“Part of the solution must be to introduce academic success advisors for middle and high school students,” said Michelle Higgs, a community member and former PTA president. Higgs is also running as a Democrat to represent Indiana House District 60 in the November election.

“In college, most students have an undergraduate advisor who helps them chart academic progress, supports them with resources and helps them make informed decisions that allow for flexibility, even changing goals midway through. That same support must be available for Hoosier middle and high school students.”

More than 4,500 people — mostly parents and educators — have provided feedback so far. State law says the diplomas must be approved before the end of the year, but they will not be fully implemented until the 2028-29 school year. However, schools could choose to opt in sooner.

Jenner encouraged people to continue to share their ideas and opinions about the proposal. She said the IDOE will address the current feedback with changes to the proposal that will be shared next month.

“We are a ways away from landing this. The ink is not dry at all,” she said. “Now is the time for constructive feedback.”

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story identified Michelle Higgs as a community member and former PTA president. Higgs is also running for public office this November. For the purpose of clarity, the story has been updated to include that information.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.