Does handing a diploma to a high school graduate mean he or she is ready to succeed in the next phase of life? Does it even indicate he or she is confident in reading and mathematics?

Under Kentucky’s current graduation requirements, the answer is no, which is why I believe now is the time for us to make significant revisions to our requirements.

The Kentucky Depart­ment of Education has been hard at work developing a proposal for revised minimum high school graduation requirements in Kentucky. We will recommend significant changes to those standards to the Kentucky Board of Education in October.

Kentucky boasts one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country at nearly 90 percent. Our high school graduation rate ranks seventh in the nation.

The improvement we have made in high school graduation over the last decade has been extraordinary. We now graduate many more students than we did just a generation ago. That’s progress to be proud of, but we must do more.

Our high school graduation rate has not translated into the successes in college attainment or employment that you would expect.

According to the Ken­tucky Center for Statistics, of the public high school students graduating in 2017, just 65.6 percent met the requirements to be considered ready for college and/or the workforce. Only a little more than half of all 2015 graduates were enrolled in a college or university in the year after graduation. For the graduating class of 2010, only 30.6 percent of graduates earned a certification – such as a certificate or any type of degree – seven years after completing high school.

These data points cause us to question what a Ken­tucky high school diploma really means.

Our minimum requirements for high school graduation fall short of assuring that our graduates have reached a level of competency in reading and mathematics. Neither do our requirements ensure our graduates are ready for college or the workforce.

We can do so much better.

The process for developing our recommended changes has involved substantial stakeholder input and a tremendous amount of work and discussion by KDE staff and members of the Kentucky Board of Education.

KDE teamed with education and business and industry partners from across Kentucky to develop the “Profile of a Kentucky High School Graduate,” which is intended to identify the competencies needed for high school graduates to successfully transition to the next step in life, whether that be a two-year or four-year college, apprenticeship and/or the workforce.

About 4,000 people responded to a survey conducted this spring which addressed the experiences they would like students to have during high school, the trends and issues that impact the current and future workforce and their recommendations for changes to the graduation requirements.

The Kentucky Board of Education’s examination began with a look at things other states are doing to ensure their high school graduates can successfully transition to careers and college.

Kentucky’s minimum graduation requirements have not been altered since 2013, when an option for early graduation was added. If our proposal is approved by the board, the new requirements would go into effect for high school freshmen in the fall of 2019.

Here are some of the key elements of our recommendation:

• The proposed minimum high school graduation requirements are aligned to the graduate profile defined by postsecondary educators and business and industry leaders. According to these groups, a high school graduate should be able to communicate, achieve academically, think critically, adapt to change and collaborate.

• Under the new requirements, a graduate would complete a minimum of 22 credits and demonstrate attainment of foundational skills in reading and mathematics on new 10th-grade reading and mathematics assessments. Passing those assessments would become a requirement for graduation.

• Students would be required to complete statewide science and social studies assessments in grade 11, pass a civics test, receive instruction in financial literacy and demonstrate essential skills and technology competence.

• Additionally, students would be required to demonstrate transition readiness by attaining “academic readiness” or “career readiness” as defined in Kentucky’s new school accountability system.

These are significant changes, but I have complete confidence that our students, educators and communities are more than capable of rising to the occasion and meeting or exceeding the bar we set for them.

I look forward to continuing to work with districts, schools and stakeholders across the Commonwealth as we continue striving for educational excellence.

Wayne Lewis, Ph.D., is interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. He can be reached at wayne.lewis@education.ky.gov.

Wayne Lewis, Ph.D., is interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. He can be reached at wayne.lewis@education.ky.gov.

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