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Ohio seniors, juniors almost certain to get more graduation options

Alternative graduation requirements for the Classes of 2019 and 2020 are almost certain to be approved in the next two weeks, Education Committee chairs of the Ohio House and Senate said.

Thousands of Ohio high school students were at risk of not graduating under the existing system.

“We needed to fix some things for these kids, and I am so pumped,” said State Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, who has campaigned hard for the graduation options. “The great news is that the 2019 May graduation kids will have exactly what we had last year. These kids can calm down and breathe.”

An amendment delivered by the Ohio Department of Education on Monday calls for current seniors to have exactly the same graduation options that the Class of 2018 had. Students would still have to pass the required 20 classroom credits, take all state “end-of-course” tests and retake any English or math tests where they scored a 1 or 2 on the 5-point scale.

RELATED: Schools, legislators talk about graduation changes

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But instead of needing certain scores on those tests, students could earn a diploma by meeting two of nine unrelated standards that include good senior-year attendance, strong senior-year classroom grades, work/service hours and a variety of other options. Students who already passed state tests would still qualify to graduate via that route.

“I think for now that’s where we need to go,” said Andrew Brenner, Ohio’s House Education Committee chairman, who has questioned softer requirements in the past. “Unless something radically changes, I don’t know why it wouldn’t pass.”

The amendment will be tacked onto House Bill 477, which has already cleared the House and is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for the first time today. Sen. Peggy Lehner, chairwoman of that committee, said the bill might not be sent to the full Senate until next week, but has significant support.

SEPTEMBER: Work group recommends graduation changes

The amended version would then have to go back to the House for approval and to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. Brenner said Kasich’s office is “on the same page” as the legislature with the changes.

The amendment proposes largely the same graduation alternatives for the Class of 2020, with a few tweaks. Work/service hours and “capstone projects” would have to meet standards set by ODE, and the strong classroom grades option would apply to courses taken in both junior and senior year.

AUGUST: 2019 graduation rules send kids, schools scrambling

Those students at risk of not graduating under the existing system are scheduled to retake state tests starting Monday. Many students will still have to take those tests (if they scored a 1 or 2 the first time), but it appears the pressure for juniors and seniors to earn a high score on the retakes is off.

But the pressure now switches to two other areas, for high school seniors themselves, and school officials.

Seniors are just learning now, with 40 percent of the school year already complete, that a 2.5 senior-year GPA or 93 percent senior-year attendance could help them graduate. But if their performance so far this year has been low, it may be tough to make up that gap.

JULY 2017: State OKs softer graduation rules for Class of 2018

And schools will have to get organized quickly to track the graduation options – which students are already too far behind on attendance to catch up? Which teachers will oversee “capstone projects” or guide students pursuing an “Ohio Means Jobs Readiness Seal?”

School superintendents from the Hamilton, Springfield and Dayton school districts said last week they were in favor of the changes despite the late timing. Ohio Department of Education data showed that as of the start of this school year, only 51 percent, 39 percent and 27 percent of seniors from those three districts, respectively, had already met the state test requirements.

Dayton Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and Hamilton Superintendent Larry Knapp said keeping the requirements the same as last year would put schools in a good position to help seniors, since they have a year of experience with the options.

DECEMBER 2017: Graduation rates rise; Ohio ranks low for black students

Meanwhile, a new long-term system of graduation requirements, likely applying to current sophomores and beyond, will be debated by the legislature in early 2019. Brenner said legislators need to get continuing input from Gov.-elect Mike DeWine.

Some say harder standards and graduation tests were needed because teens were leaving high school without needed skill levels. But some educators said the tests weren’t properly aligned to Ohio’s curriculum and are not the best way to measure students’ preparation for their futures.

The state school board already recommended a new system that would allow students to show their ability in each area in a variety of ways, including tests, classroom GPA, a portfolio or project.

The amendment delivered to the legislature Monday says by April 1, ODE will present a detailed recommendation that “reduces reliance on state testing, encourages local innovation, and supports student readiness for a career, college, and life.”

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