The debate over revamping high school graduation requirements in Colorado has been a slow-burning fire that is about to get a lot hotter.

That's because the State Board of Education just approved a change that could require a certain test score for high school graduation.

Of course, the standards on the table would include other ways for kids to show competency and escape the K-12 system, and nothing is going to take effect for quite a long time.

The bottom line is that Colorado is on track for developing standards that large numbers of kids may not meet. And that would cause a whole lot of consternation.

So, is it a good idea? We think so.

A high school diploma has to mean more than having attended as required and being predictably promoted to the next grade. This is what educators mean when they talk about "seat time" and how it cannot be the main requirement for graduation.

Getting a diploma should mean students have actually learned something and have the knowledge necessary to go to college, enter the military or get a decent job. This is the "competency" argument.

Students leaving Colorado's K-12 system with a diploma ought to have attained basic proficiencies in core areas of study.

The Board of Education on Wednesday passed the standards unanimously, though some minimum requirements haven't yet been set. But some already portend trouble.

A suggested minimum standard would be an 18 on the English portion of the ACT college readiness assessment test and a 19 on the math part.

Recent ACT test scores — all juniors take the test — show how problematic that standard will be for low-income and minority kids.

Colorado students eligible for free lunch scored an average 15.5 on the English portion of the ACT in 2012. For black students, the average was 16.1. For Hispanics, it was 15.9. For white students, it was 21.

A so-called "cut score" of 18 would leave a lot of those kids behind. Of course, there are other measures that are in various stages of development. Furthermore, the standards won't go into effect for seven years, giving kids and systems a chance to adjust.

And the experience of other states in setting requirements for graduation is informative.

"When states have increased the bar, kids have generally met the bar," said Bill Kurtz, chief executive of Denver School of Science and Technology. He was among those on a panel that developed the guidelines. "There hasn't been the Armageddon that, I think, oftentimes is forecast."

Other concerns that have emerged already center on local control and how these state "guidelines," which came out of a measure passed by the legislature, look more like mandates.

Be that as it may, it's an important public policy imperative to ensure kids are getting a decent high school education, one that will prepare them for the next step.

It's never easy to turn the great ship of educational bureaucracy, but this task is worth the hard work it will take to complete.