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Advocates Concerned Over Proposed Ky. High School Graduation Rules

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Teachers and education advocates voiced concern about proposed changes to high school graduation requirements during a public hearing on Thursday.

Under the proposal, which received initial approval last month, students will be required to pass basic reading and math exit exams before they can graduate, and prove they are “transition ready” by getting on-the-job experience, passing college entry exams or passing college-level courses.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewissays the requirements would help ensure students have basic reading and math skills by the time they graduate, but has been met with stiff opposition from advocates who worry that the changes would lead to a rapid drop in local graduation rates.

Perry Papka with the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, argued that the proposal wouldn’t improve student outcomes.

“The problem is not diagnostic. We know which students need more support," Pafka said. "Schools need strategies to increase learning, and minimum competency exams have not proven to do that.”

The proposal includes a requirement that students pass “foundation” reading and math exams before they can receive their diploma, or get approval from a local superintendent.

Students would also have to meet benchmark test scores or participate in vocational programs to prove they’re ready to find employment.

Tim Bobrowski, superintendent of the Owsley County School District, said he was worried that students in his district wouldn’t have as many options to meet the requirements as those in urban areas.

“The apprenticeships and internships are great. I love the idea, I love the concept," he said. "I just wish I could do them. I wish that we had these manufacturers and these jobs that kids could go in and mentor and shadow professionals in their work to kinda guide their work.”

Advocates — including teachers, superintendents and a student — criticized the proposal, saying it would hurt poor students and put too much pressure on testing.

All but one of the 17 speakers voiced opposition to the proposed standards and asked that the Department of Education take more time to study the issue.

After the hearing, Education Commissioner Lewis said that he would not change main parts of the proposal before it is considered by the state board of education next week.

“I am confident that there is not a school or a district in Kentucky that currently could not offer at least a couple of the avenues that are available to kids,” Lewis said. “For as many people as are saying ‘let’s slow down, where’s the urgency,’ I have other people that tell me daily ‘what’s taking so long?’”

The proposed standards will be considered by the state board of education on Dec. 5 and would go into effect during the 2020-21 school year.

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