The Ohio Senate wants to cut a break to the state’s 2017-18 high school seniors with a proposed list of alternate graduation requirements that don’t rely on end-of-course testing.
The Senate Finance Committee’s addition to the recently approved budget requested that seniors graduating in 2018 be exempt from test score requirements. The committee said the class has experienced unfair results from the number of changes in state testing mandates over the past three years.
The Senate has suggested the students instead meet two of these alternative requirements:
• A 93 percent attendance rate during the academic year
• A 2.5 grade point average for a minimum four full-year courses or the equivalent during senior year
• The completion of a senior project the district directs
• The completion of 120 hours of district-directed work or community experience during the academic year
• Earning three or more credits in a College Credit Plus course over the span of high school
• Completing an International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement course over the span of high school, and scoring well enough on the exam to earn college credit
• Earning the minimum of a Level 3 score on each component of the WorkKeys exam, for a total of nine points
• Earning a credential or credentials equal to three points or more approved by the Ohio BOE and recognized by industry .
These “pathway” goals will allow members of the Class of 2018 to graduate despite new test score requirements.
At present, the alternate requirements will not extend beyond next year’s graduating class. The legislation required the approval of the full state Senate, the House of Representatives, and Gov. John Kasich before it could be enacted.
“We’re very pleased the governor and General Assembly included in the state’s biennial budget the transition graduation requirements recommended by the state Board of Education and Graduation Requirements Work Group for the class of 2018,” Ohio BOE spokesperson Brittany Halpin said.
Not everyone is happy with the alternatives. Tom Gunlock, a former president of the state BOE, said he believes the class of 2018 should be offered relief but the change should involve their studies.
“Giving a break of some kind was justifiable, (but) it should have been based on academics,” he said. “It needs to be based on something we can measure. Bottom line: As long as you show up and write a paper, we’ll give you a diploma.”
Gunlock said the Senate proposal was made because Ohio school superintendents fear end-of-course test results could prevent some seniors next school year from graduating. He said the results they’re basing their conclusions on are from the 2015-16 school year.
“They should have waited for last year’s testing to come in before making this decision,” he said.
Gunlock also thinks students would fare better with the defunct Ohio Graduation Test. “Then employees would have known the 2018 graduating class had an eighth grade education,” he said.
Fayette Local Schools Superintendent Erik Belcher said the Senate’s alternate requirements better serve next year’s graduates, particularly those without plans for higher education and those who aren’t sure where they’re headed.
“The path that was in existence was a very challenging path for those kids who weren’t going onto college. I want to see (this pathway) for those kids going into the workforce,” he said.
“When we talk about graduation, we’re not talking about those college kids…We’re talking about kids that, maybe they’re better with their hands. I think we need graduation requirements to fit the needs of these kids.”
Belcher, who attended a statewide rally with other superintendents to protest current testing practices, said high-stakes testing of students is not the answer.
“They need to balance the rigor of what they’re expecting with what works. The state needs to find a long-term solution to what kids actually know outside a standardized test,” he said. “I have no problem with the academic rigor we put on kids. I don’t want to dumb anything down. I think we need to have alternative ways that we measure kids, and I think some of these (proposed) requirements do that.”
He suggested the requirement to write a paper should change to permit students with manual skills to instead do a project showcasing their talent.
“To me, those kind of things are measurable, if they allow that to happen,” Belcher said.
Aaron Rex, Archbold schools superintendent, said the state’s changes in testing don’t affect students in smaller districts as much as those in urban areas. In the Archbold district only about five students aren’t meeting the test standards.
“You’re seeing pretty good results, but that’s in our particular district. When you look at state averages, the numbers go way down,” he said
Still, Rex thinks the break the Class of 2018 will get on end-of-course testing is valid.
“It’s a good idea. I think you’re going to help kids who maybe don’t do well on the test,” he said. “There are a lot of kids struggling to pass the tests, so they had to do something.”
Rex said the Senate is trying to level the playing field for seniors next school year “because they’ve undergone so many changes over the last three years. I don’t think it’s an easy way out for them.
“As a whole, as an educational field, I think we all agree there should be accountability. But when you change what the accountability piece is, and you keep changing things, it takes a while for the kids and the school systems to adjust to that change.”
He believes the state will continue offering alternatives to high school seniors but with testing involved.
“How do you change it for (only) one class? What’s going to happen the next year?” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.