Education Politics

Next month the Kentucky Board of Education will consider implementing new high school graduation requirements geared towards making sure students are ready to enter the workforce or pursue higher education.

The proposed requirements include mandating that students pass “foundation” reading and math exams before they can receive their diploma and meeting benchmark test scores or participating in vocational programs to prove they’re ready to find employment or continue academic pursuits.

Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis is advocating for the changes, saying that despite Kentucky’s 90 percent high school graduation rate, many students lack skills that are essential for finding jobs or excelling at college.

“When kids walk across the stage at graduation we pat them on the back and I think their parents and the community are assuming that that diploma means that kids have mastered certain basic skills and they’re ready to move on and do something, when it’s not,” Lewis said.

Kentucky has the seventh highest graduation rate in the country but Lewis said only 65 percent of students are college or career ready when they graduate.

“That begs the question why are we granting high school diplomas to kids that we don’t believe are prepared for the next steps in their lives,” he said.

Lewis says once implemented, he thinks the changes could lead to a drop in the state’s graduation rate, but that it’s more important to have a high school diploma that is “meaningful.”

Local schools and districts would ultimately be in charge of finding ways to improve student reading and math skills.

The proposed requirements would go into effect for students entering high school in the fall of 2019.

The Kentucky Board of Education is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the standards on Oct. 2.

Under the plan, students would take the reading and math proficiency exams their sophomore year. They would be able to take the test multiple times, but would be required to pass in order to graduate.

Students would also have to demonstrate “academic readiness” by either scoring a yet-to-be-determined benchmark on college entrance exams or scoring a three or higher on two Advanced Placement exams, or similar tests.

Or instead, they could prove “career readiness” by receiving an industry certification, completing an apprenticeship, showing they have “exceptional” work experience or scoring highly in dual credit classes.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.