KBE unanimously approves graduation requirements in final vote

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis speaks to reporters. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This story has been updated.

Kentucky officially has new high school graduation requirements. Kentucky’s Board of Education approved the long-discussed proposal Wednesday afternoon.

Now, the requirements will go through a legislative review process before implementation. Freshmen entering in the 2019-20 school year will have to meet one of eight graduation “qualifiers.” Freshmen in 2020-21 will have to meet all of the new requirements.

A diluted version of the original proposal, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said the requirements don’t go as far as he wants but are still a step forward.

KBE initially passed the requirements in October, sending the proposal into a monthlong public comment period. The feedback was often critical.

Monday, two days before the final vote, Lewis axed the transition readiness requirement, a key but criticized part of the proposal. A list of “graduation qualifiers,” which were often diluted versions of the original readiness options, replaced it.

The new plan is between the current “extremely low bar” and the initial proposal, which would have been one of the “most rigorous in the country,” Lewis said. 

Board chairman Hal Heiner defended the changes, saying they account for resource differences between districts and student abilities. A few board members pushed back, calling the adjusted plan too low of a bar. 

Rich Gimmel asserted that Lewis “lowered the bar in many areas from what was not a particularly high bar to begin with” in the new plan.

“It’s a fairly low bar,” Gimmel said. “But at least it’s a bar.”

When questioned by board member Joe Papalia, Lewis said students would “probably not” be ready to compete in life after graduation with a diploma under these requirements. 

“How are we going to be competitive … if we don’t raise the bar?” Papalia, an entrepreneur critical of the initial proposal, asked. 

As the discussion played out, board member Gary Houchens tweeted that the proposal “DOES raise the bar” in response to Papalia’s comments.

“Let’s not let the perfect (which does not exist in this case) be the enemy of the good,” Houchens tweeted.

One organization who asked KBE to delay Wednesday’s vote, the Kentucky Schools Board Association, immediately said they would work with state lawmakers in reviewing the regulations.

“Our concerns on behalf of local school boards over inequities and unintended consequences at the district level — the same ones echoed by other education groups throughout the Commonwealth — warranted further discussion,” KSBA said in a statement. “Now legislators will have an opportunity to carefully review all aspects of the proposal. KSBA will work with our partners in the General Assembly as they undertake these measures.”

Prichard Committee Executive Director Brigitte Blom-Ramsey, who also asked for a delayed vote, tweeted, “Attention to the most meaningful diploma for all students’ future should be our collective goal – for the education and economic development of our state.”

Under the new requirements, students will need to earn at least 22 credits, prove basic competency in math and reading and achieve at least one “qualifier” to graduate. They’ll also need to pass a civics exam, take a financial literacy class and take science and social studies assessments.

Students have three ways, branded as “graduation prerequisites,” to prove competency: Achieve at least an apprentice score on 10th-grade state assessments, have at least a proficient score on eighth-grade tests or present a student work portfolio.

Students have eight options for qualifiers:

  • Completing precollege curriculum (two credits of a world language)
  • Hitting a CPE benchmark on the ACT or another college admissions test in one section
  • One dual credit course passed with at least a C
  • Pass one Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Advanced International course and test
  • Receiving industry certification
  • Four credits in a single career pathway
  • Complete two years of an approved pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship
  • At least 500 hours of work experience