The Kentucky Board of Education has approved new high school graduation requirements, mandating students demonstrate competency in basic math and reading, and complete benchmarks intended to show they are ready for work or college before they can graduate.
The legislature still has to sign off on the policy.
Most of the new requirements will go into effect for freshmen starting high school next fall and the full policy will take effect for subsequent classes.
Many board members criticized the measure for not going as far as an earlier proposal.
Board member Rich Gimmel said the version that passed on Wednesday "lowered the bar in many areas from what was not a particularly high bar to begin with."
But in the end, board members cast their concerns aside and voted unanimously to approve the new standards.
Board member Kathy Gornik said she wanted the proposal to go farther, but ended up voting in favor of it.
"I'm on board because this is a bureaucracy and with great work and your commitment to move this needle, I'm on board to support it," Gornik said
The new standards would require students to choose one of seven options to show they are ready for work or higher education:
- Complete a pre-college curriculum as established by the Council on Postsecondary Education
- Receive a benchmark score on a college admissions test
- Complete a dual credit course with at least a C
- Receive a benchmark score on an AP, IB or Cambridge Advanced test
- Receive an industry certification
- Complete four credits in a KDE-approved career pathway
- Complete 500 hours of work experience
Students will also have to pass basic reading and math tests before they could graduate or have a portfolio approved by the local superintendent.
The measure is a scaled-back version of an earlier proposal that would have given students fewer options to demonstrate career or college readiness.
Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said he made the changes because "resource starved" school districts, especially ones in rural areas, don't have as many resources available for students to meet the proposed transition standards.
But he defended the proposal as an improvement on the status quo.
"It is a higher bar, I believe, than what we have now," Lewis said.
Education advocates opposed the original version of the standards and asked for more time to analyze the newest version before it was approved on Wednesday.
After the proposal passed, the Kentucky Association of School Boards released a statement saying it would have benefited from "additional review and fiscal impact analysis."
"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 wrote in the statement.
Hal Heiner, chair of the Kentucky Board of Education, defended the quick turnaround.
"I'd say personally well done. And certainly all of my concerns that came out of public comment have been addressed," Heiner said.