The state school board on March 12 approved proposed graduation rules that would allow high schoolers to use a detailed project rather than a test as one path to graduation, and recommended the new system take effect for the Class of 2022, rather than 2021.
Recently passed Ohio law requires the state school board to recommend a new long-term graduation system by April 1. The state legislature would take those recommendations and make the final decision, making new law on graduation as part of the state budget bill in June.
Hours of state board debate focused largely on test vs. non-test options, and the pros and cons of the so-called “culminating student experience” projects. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria had already said that state business leaders had misgivings about the projects, and a newly formed business group testified to that extent.
The Ohio Excels business coalition, led by education veteran Lisa Gray and former Congressman Pat Tiberi, opposed the culminating student experience option and said the overall proposal would weaken graduation requirements. Tiberi said it could feed into “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income students, allowing them to receive diplomas without ensuring they are prepared for their futures.
“Our biggest concern about the plan that is being proposed is the culminating student experience,” Gray said. “We are worried that that is going to be an option for students that is going to be inconsistent across the state, that there will be different expectations depending on the community that you live.”
Part of the early-March proposal by DeMaria was a call for training, quality assurance and data collection tied to those student projects, in an effort to avoid the very issue that the Ohio Excels group raised.
State school board members pushed back against Gray’s argument, pointing out that Ohio Excels’ own proposal included few non-test graduation options, at a time when many educators, parents, politicians and others have called out for them.
Board member Nick Owens said the state needs multiple pathways to a diploma because its standardized tests don’t necessarily measure the right skills. Meryl Johnson said a one-size-fits-all standard is inappropriate in a state that has major inequities from school district to school district. John Hagan said the proposed changes do not lower the graduation bar, but give options to skilled students who don’t test well.
State board member Stephanie Dodd eventually proposed removing the culminating student experience projects from the graduation recommendations. She said schools shouldn’t be mandated to pay for and implement a system that even state officials hadn’t fleshed out yet. But her motion was rejected 14-1.
Classes of 2019, 2020
Graduation rules for current high school seniors and juniors were already set in December, when the legislature extended non-test pathways to a diploma. Those students still have to pass the required 20 classroom credits and take all state “end-of-course” tests.
But if their state test scores are not sufficient, they can graduate by hitting any two of nine markers, including 93 percent attendance, a 2.5 GPA, a “capstone” project, or 120 work/community service hours. The attendance option is only available to the Class of 2019. There’s also an SAT/ACT graduation option, and a career tech option.
2021 and beyond
The state school board recommended extending the 2020 options to the Class of 2021, then putting the new system in place for current freshmen (2022).
Those students would be allowed 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.
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.
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