State proposal would overhaul high school graduation requirements


An Indiana State Board of Education proposal to overhaul high school graduation requirements is moving forward, although some state BOE members, including Hamilton Southeastern Schools Superintendent Patrick Mapes, joined other Hoosier educators who are expressing concerns.

The proposed changes will not be finalized until late fall or early winter.

Under the proposal, starting with 2029 graduates there would be two diploma options — the GPS and GPS Plus — rather than the current general, Core 40, academic honors and technical honors options. Proposed new requirements call for students to focus on core classes during their first two years of high school, with the second two years offering a combination of coursework and experiences, such as internships and other work-based learning.

During a June 5 BOE meeting, Ron Sandlin from the Indiana Department of Education gave a presentation about the proposal. He said there is broad support for reimagining the high school experience and how the state prepares students for the future.

“Employers are telling us that those skills that are needed are best learned in many instances outside of the school system,” he said. “You’ll see in our solution that we really, really prioritize work-based learning.”

Sandlin said schools can provide a solid foundation during the first two years of high school, allowing flexibility for students to get that work-based learning in their second two years. He noted that there have been “robust” conversations with educators since the proposal was introduced in late March.

Many educators criticized removal of the academic honors diploma, in particular. There have been some revisions in response, Sandlin said, such as the addition of three diploma seals to signify that a student has met the requirements for college, military service or employment in a trade. He added that the proposal will continue to be revised based on input throughout the summer into fall.

Following Sandlin’s presentation, Mapes said he wants flexibility for students, but there needs to be some kind of framework of courses.

“We have to have a defined roadmap … of courses, so we all can get comfortable with this,” he said. “I wanted a work-based diploma. I wanted that kid who wasn’t going to go to college to be able to go get some experiences their junior and senior year … and to take mathematics and language arts courses that led them to that work-based experience, which may mean that kid takes a lot of applied math and they get really, really good at fractions. They get really good at considering what square footage is — things that’s going to happen in construction or electrical or plumbing, right? But right now, I can’t see that (in the proposed diploma requirements).”

Mapes added that elimination of the state academic honors diploma is a concern. If that elimination is eventually approved, he said, HSE school district will offer its own academic honors diploma.

“Because 80 percent of our kids are going to college and we want to make certain that when they’re done with us, they can do what we’ve been telling them — you can go be successful no matter what you choose to do,” he said.

Fishers resident Randy Hudgins, who teaches history at Warren Central High School, said he was pleased with Mapes’ comments, especially since his twins will be starting kindergarten at HSE Schools this fall.

Hudgins said he, too, is concerned with the significant changes proposed, noting that there hasn’t been any kind of pilot program to make sure those changes are positive. He agreed with concerns raised during the June 5 meeting’s three hours of public comment about the proposed removal of requirements for classes that are needed if students want to attend college.

“Someone can get a GPS diploma taking absolutely no foreign language, no world history, no fine arts,” he said. “The common denominator on that is those are all required for the academic honors diploma.”

Hudgins said the proposed GPS Plus diploma’s requirements are problematic, too, because of the large number of advanced courses needed along with work-based experiences, which can be challenging for students to find, especially in rural parts of the state.

He added that the addition of seals essentially mimics diploma requirements that are in place now.

“They wanted to end the current diplomas they offer and offer something new,” Hudgins said. “With the seals, they’re basically putting the three big diploma types right back into it” and people who supported the original proposal likely will push back about the seals.

Hudgins stressed that he favors more opportunities for students interested in the trades but feels the proposed new diploma requirements could end up harming opportunities for college-bound students.

“We can do both,” he said.

To view the June 5 BOE meeting, visit