Senate pushes new graduation rules with more weight on test scores

The state budget bill that was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday and is expected to be voted on today by the full Senate would change Ohio high school graduation requirements again, starting with the Class of 2023.

The graduation change was not part of the Ohio House’s version of the budget bill, which means that if it passes the full Senate, a conference committee will have to hash out the differences next week. Gov. Mike DeWine also has the ability to use line-item vetoes.

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The Senate committee discarded a set of recommendations from state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and the state school board that were more than a year in the making. The committee instead approved a graduation plan introduced last month by a consortium of two education nonprofits and a newly formed business group — Fordham Institute, the Alliance for High Quality Education and Ohio Excels.

The three-prong plan would still require students to pass 20 credits. The first new prong would require them to earn two “diploma seals” from a long list, including job readiness, various test scores, community service and more. Many of those “seal” standards would be new.

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’s a departure from the plan from DeMaria and the Ohio Department of Education, which was tied to the state’s strategic plan for education. Their recommendation would have allowed students to earn a diploma by showing skills in a variety of ways (rather than just tests) in five areas — English, math, technology, other academic subjects and leadership/social development.

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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.”

But Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner said Thursday morning that the “culminating student experience” project was what held up that plan.

“I think the only issue with the Ohio Excels plan was that they did not include the capstone project, which they and a number of others … felt that while it was an excellent learning process, you could not ensure any kind of equity and rigor across the state,” Lehner said. “What might be considered a good, robust plan in one district, in another would be a joke. They felt that it just wasn’t a fair tool to use if we were looking for equity.”

ODE had developed a detailed rubric that schools would have used to evaluate those graduation projects.

“We are disappointed … since it is clear through conversations and work with Ohio educators, superintendents and districts that (the culminating student experience) provides another valuable way for students to demonstrate their competency,” Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Carolyn Cypret said, adding that ODE would continue to support the state board’s graduation recommendations through the conference committee process.

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Many public school district advocates have said that it is standardized test scores that are actually the equity problem in graduation rules. Years and years of results show the test scores largely track poverty and wealth data.

Asked how the state would come to a fair passing score on those two required tests, Lehner said that had not been finalized.

“They’re going to be looking at it, particularly around the report card, to make sure we are using the right measurements,” Lehner said. “We have never really put the scores on our tests through some sort of rigorous testing with psychometricians looking at it and really evaluating what is a good passing score. That’s something we need to do.”

Ohio Department of Education officials did not immediately respond to Lehner’s comments.

In the meantime, rising seniors in the class of 2020 already have non-test graduation pathways, which were set in December. Those students still have to pass the required 20 classroom credits and take all state “end-of-course” tests.

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But if their state test scores are not sufficient, they can graduate by hitting any two of nine markers, including a 2.5 GPA in certain classes, a “capstone” project, 120 work/community service hours and other options. There are also career tech and ACT-SAT score pathways.

School report card

According to the summary document released Wednesday, the Senate budget bill would establish a committee to study state report cards and issue a report with recommendations for improvements by December 15, 2019. The bill would also “adjust the grading scale and methodology for determining the value-added progress dimension on state report cards,” but it does not explain how that would occur.

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