Business group latest to offer a long-term graduation plan for Ohio schools

Ohio’s debate over long-term high school graduation rules revved up again last week, as a new group of state business and education leaders made a formal proposal, the same day government and union groups testified before a state Senate panel.

Ohio Excels — a business group working with the Fordham Institute and the Alliance for High Quality Education — proposed a three-prong graduation matrix. It would still require students to pass 20 credits and would require them to earn two “diploma seals” from a long list, including job readiness, various test scores, community service and more.

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The other prong would require students to score “competent” on the Algebra I and English II state exams, unless they enlist in the military, earn high-level career tech credentials, or earn college math and English credits.

That approach differs from the one proposed by the state board of education and state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, which would have more non-test options to earn a diploma. DeMaria explained that approach in testimony to the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education.

“In real life it is the successful application of learning that is the true test of knowledge … not the assessment of learning,” DeMaria said. “We will always learn more about what a student knows by seeing them demonstrate their learning. This is why standardized tests aren’t a very good predictor of college success.”

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The state’s long-term plan recommends that students be allowed to earn a diploma by showing skills in a variety of ways in five areas — English, math, technology, other academic subjects and leadership/social development.

For example, a student might meet the English requirement via a state test but meet the math standard via their GPA in school classes, and qualify in their other subjects and leadership via a deep project called a “culminating student experience.”

Lisa Gray, president of Ohio Excels, has previously expressed concern about whether the “culminating student experience” would be implemented consistently across the state. DeMaria’s proposal would require local school districts to score those projects, using a rubric designed by the state.

Fordham Institute Ohio Vice President Chad Aldis has voiced similar consistency concerns about using grade-point averages for graduation, pointing to differences in how schools teach courses and grade them. Aldis has regularly cited the need for some objective measure of student performance.

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The Ohio Education Association pushed back against that idea in its testimony. Scott DiMauro, vice president of the teachers union group, said, “It is important to recognize the professional judgment of licensed educators as a valid method for making decisions about student work, knowledge and readiness for graduation.”

The Buckeye Institute, a right-leaning think tank, also testified on the graduation requirements issue, generally supporting the Ohio Excels plan.

“We applaud the flexibility that may be created by reducing some of the testing requirements that have burdened teachers and created a teach-to-the-test mentality,” said Buckeye Institute research fellow Greg Lawson. “We also support the joint proposal’s plan to offer other career, technical, and apprenticeship pathways for graduation.”

The state legislature is expected to approve some form of long-term graduation plan by the end of June. The Class of 2020 already has graduation rules in place, requiring students to earn certain state test points or career tech credit or ACT scores, but includes another avenue featuring a menu of GPA, a “capstone” project, work/community service hours and other options.

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All of the groups have recommended some type of bridge be extended at least to the Class of 2021, with the long-term rules taking effect for the Class of 2022 or 2023.

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