Diploma debate: The requirements for your kids to graduate could be very different

Ohio‘s long-term graduation work group wants students to have a much broader set of pathways to a diploma, but questions remain about when a new system should take effect and what should happen until then.

The 24-member group of educators, politicians and a parent organized by state superintendent Paolo DeMaria held its last meeting Wednesday and agreed on a rough framework that will be tweaked by DeMaria and presented to the state school board next month. The state legislature would ultimately have to approve most changes to graduation rules.

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The work group’s goal is to give students multiple ways to earn a diploma by “showing what they know” in five areas — English, math, other academic subjects, technology and the more vague leadership/reasoning and social-emotional development.

But state tests would be only one way to get there, with high school GPA, College Credit Plus classes, a portfolio of work or a major project — a Culminating Student Experience — among the other standards. Local schools, not the state, would determine how students need to meet the leadership/social requirement.

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DeMaria framed the diploma debate in terms of finding ways to measure the various skills kids need to be successful. He argued that a room with 10 successful people would include some who were strong on people skills and some who were weak, with the same true of math skills or writing.

“Success is a jagged thing, and you can define it in lots of different ways,” DeMaria said. “I think for too long, we’ve tried to be really precise about what kids should know and be able to do (via tests). That may be laudable, but we actually disadvantage some students who have acquired a good bit of knowledge and skill, and do have what it takes to be successful.”

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The work group proposed that the softer class of 2018 graduation options — a mix of course GPA, good attendance, work/service hours, class projects and more — be extended for multiple years until a new long-term system can be adopted.

But the group was unclear when that should be. Their charge originally was to craft graduation standards for the class of 2021 and beyond. But the group expressed concern that students should know what their diploma requirements are when they start high school.

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That would mean any new standards would not be able to take effect for at least the class of 2023, and more likely the class of 2024, given the work needed to flesh out the details of the many pathways.

DeMaria suggested there would have to be flexibility in working with the legislature if they wanted to launch the new standards with the class of 2022, but he suggested 2021 would be pushing it too far, given those students could be finishing their sophomore years before the legislature acted.

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

State Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner repeatedly suggested the new rules could go into effect as early as the Class of 2021 if the legislature passes a bill in November or December.

In proposing extension of the Class of 2018 options, the group’s draft document expressed a willingness to accept “modest modification” of alternatives viewed as “not sufficiently rigorous.”

There has been wide belief in recent years that too many Ohio students graduate high school without the necessary skills to be successful — whether those are measured by college remediation rates, or employers who say new graduates are not workforce ready.

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Chad Aldis, vice president of Ohio Policy for the Fordham Institute, was one of only a few non-work group members at Wednesday’s meeting. He acknowledged that “an incredible amount of work” has gone into ODE’s graduation review, but he questioned whether a new system creating dramatically more graduates necessarily means more students prepared for success.

“I think the key question is exactly how high will the expectations be on students?” Aldis asked. “We know the skills students need go beyond math, reading history and science, but they definitely include those things. And the danger with students graduating with just good grades in classes? They’ve been doing that for decades and not still not knowing the subject material.”



To graduate under this proposal, students would have to meet a standard in each of five areas. In English and math, they would have to achieve one of the following:

** Qualifying performance on state test or other assessment (cutoff yet to be set)

** Qualifying GPA in high school or College Credit Plus coursework (cutoff yet to be set)

** Qualifying demonstration of writing/math for a “culminating student experience” project

** Completion of online state English/math course

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