Local school superintendents are, once again, shaking their heads at new legislation, and this time its aimed right at their graduation rates.
New federal rules will ultimately change the way states calculate graduation rates for individual schools. Thousands of general diplomas will no longer count, thereby likely lowering graduation rates all around.
And local officials aren't happy.
“All this does is demean the accomplishments of those students who may work harder to get that general diploma than some did to get that academic honors diploma,” said South Knox superintendent Tim Grove. “For some kids, it's a struggle to get that done, and if the government takes away the recognition — because that's exactly what they're doing — they're going to be faced with, 'Why bother?'”
The rule change means the general diploma, which doesn't qualify a student for college, won't be counted in federal reports. More than 8,600 students earned a general diploma in 2016, according to a report this week in the Indianapolis Star.
Lower graduation rates will affect schools' state accountability grades. And poor grades can lead to state intervention.
The three public school superintendents here say the majority of their students earn either the Core 40 diploma — which meets federal standards in terms of credit hours earned in the subjects of English, math, science, social studies and health — or one with honors, either technical or academic.
But there are several each year who earn the general diploma.
Greg Parsley, superintendent of the Vincennes Community School Corp., for instance, said in May, Lincoln High School saw 96 percent of its students graduate with one of these three diplomas.
Under this new law, Parsley said Lincoln's rate would drop to 88 percent, a difference of just 13 students who earned the general diploma.
North Knox superintendent Darrel Bobe said his graduation rate at the end of the last school year was 93 percent. Under this new law, he knows it will drop, too, as they always have a handful of students who earn the general diploma.
“But I don't think this will affect our students,” Bobe said, adding that students who earn this diploma, while not eligible to go on to a university, can enter the work force and become productive citizens. “That diploma is meaningful to them, and it's meaningful to me.
“But it won't be counted for us, and that's a difficult thing. As a school corporation, it could be detrimental.”
There is some confusion as to when this new law will officially take effect, specifically whether it will count in the next round of accountability grades likely coming out this fall or next year's.
Either way, Bobe cautioned people against comparing.
“Until you get a new baseline set, it will be difficult to explain to people why your (graduation) rate dropped so much,” he said.
Bobe also said in researching the new Every Student Succeeds Act, its authors merely wanted to hone in on the kind of diploma most popular in each state. In Indiana, Bobe said it's most definitely the Core 40 Diploma, so it's that diploma — and those of a higher distinction — they want to see counted.
Grove, however, still finds it horribly unfair. Why discount a segment of students?
“Even if every one of my students, all 79-80 of them, received an academic honors diploma, I would still say this legislation is unfair to those kids who are just trying to get a high school diploma, go to work and be a contributing member of their community,” he said.
“Somebody needs to sit me down and explain to me why this is a good idea, because I think it's a horrible idea.”
Parsley, too, thought the federal legislation another way to undercut the authority of local elected officials.
“It's like saying those students aren't valued,” Parsley said. “Now, all of a sudden, we're going to say that general diploma is good enough to get you through high school but not good enough to be included in our overall rate.
“This has the potential to just absolutely destroy graduation rates in the state of Indiana.”