State school board backs long-term graduation changes, weighs emergency fix

The state school board on Tuesday supported major changes to Ohio high school graduation requirements for the Class of 2022 and began discussion of potential emergency changes affecting current high school juniors and seniors.

If the state legislature approves the long-term system, students would be able 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, in the model unanimously approved by the state board’s graduation committee, 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.”

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said the idea is to give students a variety of ways to show what they know and not manufacture test constraints that do students a disservice.

“The true test is whether we as teachers and administrators, when we let someone out of the doors of our building, do we do that with the confidence that they’re going to be OK?” DeMaria said, adding that a variety of different skills can lead to success. “What are the skills and knowledge they need to have, and how do we know this student has a certain readiness. … It’s not letting that student off the hook.”

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But of more immediate concern is the Class of 2019. Under current state law, those high school seniors must meet state test standards to graduate — either 18 of 35 points on end-of-course state tests, or remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT, or a passing score on the WorkKeys exam, coupled with approved job credentials.

Those standards were first applied to the Class of 2018, but when concerns were raised about constantly changing tests and comparatively low passage rates, the state legislature approved one-time graduation options if those Class of 2018 students met certain bars on attendance, class GPA, work/service hours, or a senior project.

The state school board has recommended extending the Class of 2018 options a few more years until the complete new system comes on line. But the state legislature has balked, with Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner saying some believe the 2018 options are too lax.

Board members Tuesday acknowledged that the 2018 options could be tweaked.

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Ohio Department of Education officials on Tuesday said only 68 percent of the Class of 2018 either got the 18 state test points or got a qualifying ACT/SAT score. Some other students will graduate via job credentials or special education pathways, but the state does not have final data on those categories.

ODE Senior Executive Director Chris Woolard said the Class of 2019 is on roughly the same 68 percent trajectory. That raises questions of whether the graduation rate would drop for the current senior class. Some argue that’s OK, as the state is asking more of students, and after a transition period, graduates will be better prepared. Others say it will just leave more people without a diploma and unable to get a job.

On Tuesday, state school board member Stephanie Dodd introduced a new resolution to change graduation requirements without legislative input. While the current graduation framework of tests is in state law, the school board has the power to adjust what counts as a passing score on those tests for diploma purposes.

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

Dodd called her resolution a “last resort” only to be used if the legislature doesn’t act in November or December to help the Class of 2019. It would lower the number of points required on state exams from 18 to 14, and would eliminate the requirement that students get at least four points each in math and English.

The resolution also includes language about changing the required score on the WorkKeys exam, but the measure has not yet settled on an exact score.

Dodd said the state board’s graduation committee could vote on the resolution in November, and if the legislature takes no action in its lame duck session, the full state board could consider the resolution in December — just five months before the Class of 2019 would begin graduation ceremonies.

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DeMaria and multiple state board members said a key to the success of the proposed long-term system is for the non-test pathways — whether a major project, classroom grades, a portfolio or something else — to be high-quality educational experiences and not just a way to get students a diploma if they fail state tests.

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