Ohio high school seniors are likely to get additional graduation options in the coming weeks, less than six months before their commencement ceremonies are scheduled.
The plan comes on the heels of similar changes last year amid worries that thousands of students wouldn’t earn diplomas given harder new state tests.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, chairwoman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, said she expects legislators to extend most of the Class of 2018 graduation options to the Class of 2019 and 2020 as well, and possibly to current sophomores in the Class of 2021, all before the end of the calendar year.
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Class of 2018 graduates were able to earn a diploma by passing their required school classes and meeting two options from a long list of senior-year accomplishments, including 93 percent attendance, a 2.5 GPA, 120-plus hours of work/service, a “capstone” project, earning certain job credentials and more. Lehner said the attendance option will probably be removed from the list, but the rest will likely stay put in some form.
“This is definitely a temporary thing until we get something better in place,” said Lehner, R-Kettering. “I don’t think we’ll agonize over (the details) too much. We’ll just get it done … very, very soon.”
The state legislature is back in session next week. Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said given the short time window for students and schools to meet any changed requirements, continuity from 2018 will be important.
“Using the same or very similar requirements as we used in 2018 will enable us to quickly react and support our seniors,” Lolli said. “If the requirements are drastically different we will not have the ability to move forward quickly.”
Hamilton Superintendent Larry Knapp said any changes in the ballpark of the 2018 system will be an improvement.
“You always want to be able to give kids multiple pathways to success, and that’s exactly what this legislation will do,” Knapp said. “We only have about half a year to get this re-implemented. But having gone through this scenario last year … I think we will be able to do fine by the kids.”
The key change is that 2018 graduates (and current upperclassmen if this legislation passes) don’t have to pass a test or set of tests to graduate. Five years ago, Ohio implemented a new system of graduation tests, in part because some said the existing Ohio Graduation Test was too easy, and graduates were leaving high school without needed skill levels.
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But many educators argued against the tests — that they were too hard, weren’t properly aligned to Ohio’s curriculum or were unfair because the system changed in the middle of students’ high school careers. Some education leaders also said simply that standardized tests aren’t the best way to measure students’ preparation for their futures.
With changes done for 2018, and now likely for 2019 and 2020, it appears the three-path diploma system introduced five years ago — pass state tests, or earn credentials and pass WorkKeys, or be remediation-free on SAT or ACT — will never actually be a requirement.
“The further away that we can get from an arbitrary test of knowledge on a single day and time, while moving to a system of authentic measurement of skill and knowledge, the more meaningful education will become,” Springfield City Schools Superintendent Bob Hill said.
But Lehner, while reiterating that options will be made available for current seniors and juniors, pushed back against the anti-testing movement that has gained momentum in the past few years.
“We’re very anti-testing these days. But tests are part of school,” Lehner said, arguing that the state had set a “pretty low bar” for passing scores. “What’s going on in our schools that kids are having so much trouble taking tests? Are the tests too hard? I don’t think so.”
Lehner, R-Kettering, said the Ohio Senate may tack the short-term graduation changes onto a bill the House has already passed, possibly HB 477, in order to speed the process. The Senate will have to coordinate with the Ohio House, where HB 630 to extend the graduation alternatives is already on Tuesday’s Education Committee agenda.
Lawmakers will wait until newly elected members are seated in January to take up a long-term fix to the graduation system, Lehner said.
The state school board last week approved a set of recommendations for the new system. It would allow students 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 called a “culminating student experience.”
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Lehner said there’s “pretty good support” in the legislature for the proposed long-term system, citing a realization that students need certain academic skills but also less traditionally taught skills related to creativity and problem-solving.
“If we get the work done this spring on the permanent fix, I think that’s plenty of time for those current sophomores to know what’s expected of them,” Lehner said, implying that the Class of 2021 could be the first students subject to a new long-term system.
The Ohio School Boards Association and other education agencies asked last week for the long-term fix to be delayed until the Class of 2023, so students would know on their first day of high school what they needed to do to earn a diploma.