Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis announces changes to proposed high school graduation requirements. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This post has been updated.

A criticized transition readiness requirement proposed for Kentucky’s high school graduates is being axed from the proposal two days before the final state board vote.

Instead, students will need to hit one of seven “graduation qualifiers” on top of showing minimum competency in reading and math and earning at least 22 credits. 

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis announced the changes Monday evening, acknowledging stakeholder concerns that the initial transition readiness requirement would have put an “undue burden” on smaller, more rural districts. 

The amended proposal honors stakeholder feedback while still pushing the state forward, Lewis told reporters. 

“It is a smaller step. It is still a step forward,” Lewis said.

Students will need to complete at least one of the following qualifiers:

  • Completing precollege curriculum as established by the Council on Postsecondary Education
  • 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
  • One AP, IB or Cambridge Advanced International course and test passed
  • Receiving industry certification
  • Four credits in a single career pathway
  • At least 500 hours of work experience

Current eighth graders will be the first class that would need to achieve a qualifier. Current seventh graders will need to achieve all parts of the graduation proposal, should it pass.

The change comes after a monthlong public comment period and a two-hour public hearing last week, after which major changes to the proposal seemed unlikely. In the hearing, several stakeholders, including superintendents across the state, said they liked the transition readiness requirement in theory, but were unsure they would have the resources to implement it. 

“The department believes these qualifiers are more representative of the varying availability of courses students currently have access to, thus creating more equitable requirements,” the Kentucky Department of Education said in a news release. 

The Prichard Committee, an education nonprofit that voiced concern about the proposal, said they’re “glad” Lewis was ultimately receptive to stakeholder feedback in a statement late Monday. Prichard reiterated past calls to table Wednesday’s vote to allow for more input.

“But the call at last week’s hearing was near universal for the Kentucky Board of Education to table the proposal and have authentic engagement with stakeholders to craft solutions,” the committee said in a statement. “We hope the Board respects the feedback to ensure any potential changes truly reflect opportunities for students to succeed and excel.”

After hearing the “incredibly helpful” feedback, Lewis said he feels “really good” about the new set of recommendations. 

“They don’t go quite as far” as the transition readiness options, but the qualifiers are still steps on the way to readiness, Lewis said.

Many of the qualifiers are a “significant step back” from the initial recommendation and are diluted versions of the initial menu of options. Students would need fewer dual credit or AP classes, or lower grades, for example. 

Some stakeholders were concerned the transition readiness requirement would negatively impact disadvantaged students, who currently have lower college and career readiness rates. Monday, Lewis disagreed with the idea that it would hurt minority or low-income students. The new proposal will help hold them accountable, Lewis said, and they’ll rise to the occasion. 

The proposed minimum competency requirement, which many criticized as additional “high stakes” testing, remains, but the language clarifies that the 10th grade assessment is not the only way a student can meet that requirement. 

None of the three options in the proposal are new, but are clearly laid out with additional detail than in past public proposals.

Students can achieve an apprentice level on the tests, and retake it twice each year as juniors or seniors if needed. They can also use proficient or distinguished scores on eighth grade assessments, or present a portfolio showing competency to the superintendent. 

The test is not an additional assessment, but would use the score from a state assessment students already take. 

Lewis said some of the stakeholder feedback is the reason for the clarification. “It is a reasonable expectation” that students can do basic reading and math, Lewis said in his decision to keep the requirement.

It is a “reasonable expectation” that students can do basic math and read by high school graduation without additional funding to schools, Lewis said. “I don’t think there is anything more fundamental to schooling than that,” he added.

The Kentucky Board of Education is expected to vote on the amended proposal during their regular meeting Dec. 5.