Ohio is making more changes to graduation requirements.

Ohio graduation questions answered

The state’s rules for high school students are currently in flux.

A few years ago Ohio set new graduation requirements for the Class of 2018 and beyond. Now it looks like those will likely be changed for that first class before they truly come into play. Here’s a look at the issues:

What started this debate?

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said we’ve been debating how well K-12 schools prepare students for their futures since at least the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report that led to Ohio’s first proficiency tests in 1990. But Ohio’s standards and tests got tougher and most numerous again this decade, leading to a backlash from people who feel testing is changing education for the worse.

What is the current problem?

The Class of 2018 (current high school juniors) is the first group that uses Ohio’s new harder end-of-course exams as the primary (but not only) pathway to graduation. The tests require more critical thinking and problem solving, rather than just content knowledge.

RELATED: Scores were lower on new state tests

Former state school board member A.J. Wagner and many superintendents, including Springfield’s Bob Hill, have argued that a large chunk of that class will not get enough points on those tests to graduate, unless the system is changed. The state’s current graduation rate is 83 percent, and some are suggesting that number could be closer to 60 percent for the Class of 2018.

How are these graduation tests scored?

Students take seven end-of-course exams – as the name suggests, at the end of courses taken mostly in their freshman and sophomore years. The exam subjects are English I, English 2, Algebra, Geometry, Biology, American History, and American Government. Each test is scored on a 1-to-5 scale, and students must total 18 of a possible 35 points (an average of 2.57 points per test). In addition to that bar, students also must earn subscores of at least 4 total points in English, 4 total points in math and 6 total points in the science/history area. Students can retake these tests as often as they like in an effort to improve their scores.

Why did Ohio develop these new tests?

Many considered the outgoing Ohio Graduation Test basically an eighth-grade test. State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said employers have complained that many students were graduating without needed job skills, and too many students needed remedial work when they got to college. The new tests are considered more in line with Ohio’s education standards to prepare students.

Are those seven tests going away?

Many educators and parents would like that, but Lehner, chair of the Senate education committee, said there have been no formal proposals at either the state school board or state legislature to eliminate these state high school tests. Federal education law requires at least three tests during the high school years (one each in reading, math and science).

What does the test data say so far?

Chris Woolard, senior executive director for accountability at the Ohio Department of Education, says 66.5 percent of current juniors were “highly likely” to meet the new test requirements based on their scores through the end of their sophomore year. That includes the 28 percent of all students who had already exceeded the bar, plus two other groups making up the other 38.5 percent. One group is students who scored well so far but haven’t taken all seven tests. The other group is students who fell just shy of the 18 points (or the required subscores), but would clear the bar if they made minimal improvement on test retakes.

So is 66.5 percent the projected graduation rate?

Woolard said the 66.5 percent calculation is a conservative one, and he expects more students to meet the test requirements after test retakes. Lehner argued that students may struggle to improve on test retakes that occur long after the student has finished taking the related class. ODE also says there will be many students eligible to graduate without meeting the point requirements – special education students who have test exemptions, career-tech students who earn a career credential and students who took substitute exams rather than the state tests (Advanced Placement or College Credit Plus).

Who is affected by the graduation issue, and how?

Current high school seniors are still governed by the old Ohio Graduation Test, not the new system. Current juniors are the first grade governed by the new state tests and rules, and many groups have called for them to get help, given the large testing switches they faced. State officials are reviewing proposals to give them extra paths to graduation without passing the new tests. Current sophomores and younger students are subject to the new state tests and rules, and there are no current plans to change the requirements for them.

What is the main new proposal for current juniors?

It basically tries to provide a path to graduation for Class of 2018 students who don’t meet test requirements. According to DeMaria, it would require a student to do all of the following – a) complete the normal 20 high school class credits, b) take all required state end-of-course exams (no minimum score), and c) retake any state English or math test on which the student scored a “1” (again, no minimum score). Then the student would also have to meet two of these eight conditions – 1) Have 93% attendance senior year; 2) Post a senior-year GPA of 2.5 or better, in a minimum of four full-year courses; 3) complete a capstone senior project as defined by the district; 4) log at least 120 hours of work or community service during senior year; 5) earn at least 3 College Credit Plus credits; 6) earn a college-credit-bearing score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test; 7) earn a state board-approved job credential of 3 points or higher; or 8) earn 9 or more points on the WorkKeys exam with at least 3 points in each component.

Is that proposal a done deal?

Not yet. The state’s graduation workgroup and the state school board both approved it. But it still needs the OK of the state legislature. Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner said there could be some tweaks, but she thinks generally there’s a lot of support for the plan. House Education Committee Chair Andrew Brenner was more cryptic, saying the legislature could approve the changes as recommended, or could do something different. The legislature would likely address this issue during the state budget bill process between now and the end of June.

Are there other proposals?

There’s a separate career-tech graduation pathway in the existing system, so there’s a new recommendation for the Class of 2018 there as well. Again, students would have to take state tests and complete their credits, including an approved track of four or more vocational technical courses. Then they’d have to do one of these three things: 1) complete 250 hours in the workplace, with positive evaluations; 2) earn state-board approved industry credentials worth at least 12 points; or 3) have a proficient or better total average score on career tech WebXams. Like the main proposal, that one got the OK of the state school board, but would require state legislative approval.

Is there opposition to the proposals?

Former state school board President Tom Gunlock frequently said Ohio should raise its expectations, not lower them. Fordham Institute VP Chad Aldis took that line of argument, saying the proposed changes would lead to many more students getting diplomas, but would make them no better prepared for life and the job market ahead. He argued the changes would be a step backward, removing incentives for students and schools to try harder. DeMaria disagreed, saying there would still be “a huge number of incentives and reasons” why schools would push for continued improvement.

What is the long-term plan for Ohio graduation standards?

That’s unknown. DeMaria seemed enthusiastic about a new “unified plan” that would add several non-test options toward graduation, but the state workgroup wanted to study that further before recommending it. It’s possible that could come into play in the future. The new proposals that WERE recommended apply only to the Class of 2018. State school board member Stephanie Dodd pushed to include the Class of 2019 as well, but that was voted down by the full board. As of today, the Classes of 2019 and beyond are governed by the state’s existing system, which requires 20 high school credits, plus one of three testing paths – 1) Earning 18 of 35 possible points plus needed subscores on the end-of-course exams; 2) earning remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT; or 3) earning an approved industry credential and a passing score on the WorkKeys exam.

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