Every Student Succeeds Act (copy)

River Forest schools superintendent Steve Disney talks about the Every Student Succeeds Act and graduation pathways during a superintendent's roundtable discussion at The Times in October.

John J. Watkins, The Times

Local superintendents are asking the State Board of Education to vote against a recommendation from the Graduation Pathways Panel when it meets Wednesday. 

The 14 members of Indiana's Graduation Pathways Panel held eight meetings from August to November, and made a recommendation to the State Board of Education in November, which will be considered for adoption Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Byron Ernest, chairman of the Graduation Pathways Panel, said he is aware of the concern on the part of educators but he still believes the recommendation contains many valid items.

"The concerns surround the diploma and what it's going to look like," he said Monday.

"What the panel has come up with is good for kids and will move our state forward. It will come down to the implementation. The plan allows for schools to come up with their own pathway and be innovative."

But educators from across Northwest Indiana have been sending letters to members of the State Board of Education and legislators to express their concerns.

River Forest schools Superintendent Steve Disney said they believe the proposals are detrimental and discriminatory toward special education students, English language learners and students of poverty. He said it means graduation rates will drop significantly.

Those who graduate from high school with a general diploma will not be counted in the school's count of graduates. Only students with a Core 40 or honors diploma will be counted. The graduation rate is one of the criteria used to grade schools and districts.

"Although we support some of the concepts, we believe that many of the benchmarks are detrimental to our students' economic futures," he said.

"The recommendation of the panel will result in River Forest High School's graduation rate of approximately 81 percent dropping to 54 percent."

Moreover, he said, it also will lead to "a dramatic increase in ... paperwork and data tracking our guidance counselors will have to perform and an extremely complicated graduation process that many at-risk students and families will have difficulty understanding and getting through."

He said educators would prefer the State Board authorize state education leader Jennifer McCormick to lead a committee that includes high school principals and guidance counselors to modify the pathways recommendation and eliminate what they see as the more drastic measures.

Jane Wycoff, director of the Crown Point-based Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative, said the pathways being proposed do not offer students with a disability a reasonable course to get a diploma.

She said she is referring to students with mild cognitive disabilities, a learning disability or another health impairment who take entry-level jobs in the community, such as a Certified Nursing Assistant, a custodial position or with a fast food restaurant.

NISEC serves about 4,000 students in nine school districts in Lake County.

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.