FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Education officials say they want to make a Kentucky high school diploma mean something, and they are considering toughening graduation standards.

Right now, high school graduates must pass 22 credit hours. But Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said passing does not always mean learning.

“We believe it represents a serious attempt to raise the bar for our students and raise the bar for ourselves,” Lewis explained to the state board of education. “Making the Kentucky high school diploma, to be frank, more meaningful than it is today.”

Lewis said, while 90 percent of Kentucky high school students graduate, only 65 percent are considered college or career ready.

“We don't have assurance at this point that when a student exits high school, with a Kentucky high school diploma, that they can demonstrate mastery of basic skills in reading and mathematics,” Lewis told WDRB News. 

Under the new requirements, high school freshmen and sophomores would be tested on their mastery of basic math and reading skills before they can move on.

“What we really are proposing is rigorous. It's tough,” said Associate Education Commissioner Amanda Ellis.

The new standards also give juniors and seniors more flexibility to take classes or get training that would better help them transition to college or the work place.

“At that personalized level, we're pulling back the reins,” said Lewis. “We want to give districts and schools a whole lot more flexibility.”

New board of education chairman Hal Heiner said allowing for more personalized education should help students learn.

“What we're seeing in other states that have moved forward with allowing students to pursue their passion and interest, is that the academics get better,” he said.

But Lewis warned the new standards could initially result in fewer students graduating.

“I'm confident that after a period of time, you would see our students, and you would see our system rise to the occasion, and our graduation rates would return,” Lewis said.

The standards are still a work in progress. The board could take a final vote as early as October.

If passed, they would be in effect for freshman starting school in the fall of 2019.

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