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Graduation changes bring hope for students with IEPs

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Graduation requirement changes that were approved by the Indiana State Board of Education Graduation Pathways Panel is leaving one local administrator hopeful, particularly for students with individualized education programs.

Andy Hensley, director of special education at Shelbyville Central Schools, told a group of people attending Tuesday night’s Families United for Support and Encouragement meeting that he’s encouraged by the changes made, which he believes will help students with IEPs graduate high school.

There are three requirements under the proposal that was approved in December.

Students must earn 40 credit hours, must learn and demonstrate employability skills and must show postsecondary-ready competencies. The employability skills and postsecondary-ready competencies include multiple options to complete, such as completing a project-based learning experience in employability skills and completing a career-technical education concentrator in postsecondary-ready competencies.

Under the previous format, students who did not complete the End of Course Assessments could only graduate if they received an evidence-based waiver or work readiness waiver, both of which had similar requirements including completing remediation opportunities and 95 percent attendance.

“I don’t like if a kid has a bad, bad freshman year, (but) the light bulb goes off and they figure it out, they can do some things their freshman year that could almost make them ineligible for a waiver,” he said. “I don’t like that part of it. Kids with IEPs typically struggle the most in math and science.

“You could have a kid who needs remediation because they can’t pass the ECA so their electives that they would take or end up taking end up being remediation classes. You could have a kid sitting in school just getting barraged with math and English and nothing else. How exciting would that be to come to school everyday if that was your schedule? I mean it would be miserable. That would be a miserable schedule.”

One of the biggest changes the state is undergoing is switching the type of testing used that students are required to pass in order to graduate. Hensley said he has heard that the SAT is being considered, which he said doesn’t make sense when colleges are going away from accepting it.

SCS has 569 students in grades kindergarten through 12 that have IEPs, with the largest percentage having specific learning disabilities (33 percent), he said. Twenty-one percent have a language speech impairment and about 11 percent have autism.

“We have a whole lot of kids who want something other than to go to a four-year college,” he said. “They still want to be able to get their diploma and have the opportunity to cultivate those work-based skills, and then move onto something that they hopefully have a passion for. That really is what I think this change can mean.”

Teresa Meredith, the president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, has previously spoken out against the new diploma requirements.

In an interview late last year with The Shelbyville News, she expressed frustration that the Indiana State Board of Education “clearly chose to ignore and move on anyway” despite objections expressed by educators and parents who requested that the board slow down before they approved the measure.

The board went on to approve the changes, 7-4, with Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick being one of those who voted against it.