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IPS Transforms High School Postsecondary Pathways

Three years after launching the reinvention of IPS high schools with college and career academies and making them 100% choice options, the district is transforming postsecondary pathways and programs by taking them to another level. 

When initially designing the academies and pathways within them, IPS identified the major industries in central Indiana and the top, high-demand jobs in those areas. With the start of the 2018–19 school year, students could choose from 12 college and career academies and options at four high schools (Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, George Washington and Shortridge).

“This is a continuation of that work and includes quality improvement,” said Jennifer O’Shea, IPS postsecondary readiness officer. “We’re looking at student outcomes and performance to ensure we continue to provide high-quality pathways. Are we delivering on the promises of the pathways for our students? If not, then frankly we’re going to consider either sunsetting or investing in them to get them to a high-quality status. It’s going to be an ongoing process. We have to be able to pivot to what’s happening in the workforce and what’s happening in higher education. It wasn’t a one and done and never will be.”

The review of the pathways started in spring 2020 with the goal of making sure each one met the high-quality standards originally set and the stricter guidelines recently issued by the state. IPS engaged a consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive review of each of the 42 post-secondary pathways and programs. The review included quantitative and qualitative data that included input from high school administrators, pathway teachers, career academy coordinators, counselors, industry partners, parents and students.

Some of the findings included a lack of dual credit or Advanced Placement courses to prepare students for postsecondary education, too few work-based learning opportunities and career technical student organizations available for students, as well as insufficient access to certifications/credentials and low passage rates where there is access. 

“The goal is about making sure students aren’t just earning a diploma but are doing something that prepares them for life after high school, whether it’s direct access to the workforce, higher education or enlistment in the military,” said O’Shea. 

“I’ve learned so much about business management that I didn’t even know existed,” said Jada Taylor, a sophomore at George Washington High School in the Business and Finance Academy. 

Taylor chose the Entrepreneurship and Management pathway because she thought it would help her accomplish her goals of eventually owning her own business. She wants to open a bakery.

“I’ve learned marketing, how to advertise and have walked through different scenarios, including customer service and how to de-escalate a situation,” said Taylor. “I already feel like I’m on track to learn what I need to once I graduate and go to college.” 

The district wants every student to have this experience. As a result of the findings from the review, IPS is reducing the number of pathways from 42 to 33.  This includes 26 Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways along with seven high-quality college prep programs. The CTE pathways will prepare students for both good entry-level jobs and higher education, giving them options upon graduation. The college prep programs are pathways that don’t fall under the CTE umbrella and include the international baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme, three IB career programmes (communications, visual and performing arts and JROTC), New Tech, a project-based learning program, Math and Science, and Law and Public Policy. These programs will prepare students for the rigor of higher education, putting students on an accelerated path to a 2-year or 4-year degree.

Because of the stricter state graduation requirements, students earning a diploma is only part of the equation. Pathways are being designed to ensure students get the necessary hands-on learning opportunities such as work-based learning or project-based learning and are able to demonstrate postsecondary readiness competencies, such as earning a “C” or better in advanced coursework or hitting a certain mark on college entrance exams. These experiences will ensure students meet the new requirements and are postsecondary ready.

While IPS is not getting rid of any of the academies or pathways within them that were created under the reinvention work, the district is making some shifts and sunsetting some CTE pathways that were already in existence. 

“We looked at whether those pathways were really effective, were students completing the coursework, earning certifications and successfully participating in advanced coursework,” said O’Shea.

Some of the programs that will be sunsetted in the coming years include dental careers, pharmacy, health informatics and physical therapy. 

Some pathways that will be making a shift include the two under the Teaching, Leading and Learning Academy. This academy is now housed at Crispus Attucks High School but will move to Arsenal Tech starting in the 2022-23 school year.

“Attucks is really at capacity and there wasn’t a lot of room for growth in the Teaching, Leading and Learning Academy,” said O’Shea. “Health sciences is their primary focus, it’s what they do well, it’s why students are interested in going to Attucks. Tech has the capacity for the Teaching, Leading and Learning Academy and the proximity to other IPS schools where students can get teaching experience. We really plan to use the teaching academy as a grow-your-own teacher pipeline for IPS.”

Students currently in pathways that will be relocated or sunset, will be able to complete those programs at their current location. O’Shea said no one will be cut off.

“The goal is to ensure all pathways are set up to create a seamless transition after high school,” said O’Shea. “Pathways such as welding and medical assisting are great examples of that.  These pathways allow students to earn industry recognized certifications, as well as dual credits toward a related degree, and they get hands-on experience in the field all while still in high school. Upon graduation, they can enter the workforce making a good wage or they can enter higher education on an accelerated path by applying the earned dual credits. This is the framework we want to replicate across all pathways.” 

Many of the changes to high school pathways will start in the 2022–23 school year.