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Cleveland Plain Dealer
High school graduation requirements would be eased under Ohio Senate proposal
By Patrick O'Donnell

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The state Senate is looking to stave off a possible high school graduation "crisis" by allowing students to graduate even with poor scores on state tests.

The Senate Finance Committee included exemptions from test score requirements in its new version of the state budget bill today. Those must still pass the full Senate and also be accepted by the House, then gain approval from Gov. John Kasich, before becoming official.

The proposed new "pathways" allow students in next year's senior class, the class of 2018, to graduate without meeting new state test score requirements that would otherwise start with their class

The proposal would allow them to graduate if they meet at least two non-test standards, including having 93 percent or better attendance their senior year, having a GPA of 2.5 or above for senior year courses, completing a senior project, reaching a certain number of hours in a job or volunteer work and completing several career training steps.

The proposal from State Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican, comes from the recommendations of a panel that State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and the state school board formed last year.

School officials across the state are concerned that as many as a third of the rising senior class would not be able to meet Ohio's new test score expectations. A few hundred superintendents and other officials had rallied in protest of the requirements outside the statehouse late last year before bringing their complaints to the state school board.

That board supported today's proposed changes in April, but with a few reservations. Because members did not have time to debate them in detail, the board had asked the legislature to give it authority to make adjustments if needed. The proposal before the Senate, however, simply makes the changes.

Ohio's state school board will likely ask the state legislature to ease testing requirements for this year's high school juniors to graduate.

Nancy Hollister, vice president of the state Board of Education, had no comment on the Senate's changes.

Board member Stephanie Dodd said she wishes the Senate had left the decision to the board, but praised the changes and said the board could still ease graduation requirements other ways if the changes do not pass.

"I applaud the Senate's willingness to recognize the pending crisis and take action on some of the challenges our students are facing," Dodd said.

The Ohio Department of Education is also pleased the changes are in the bill, spokesperson Brittany Halpin said.

Some board members -- and former board members, too -- had complained that exemptions would lower the requirements too far.

Damon Asbury of the Ohio School Boards Association said the changes proposed today make sense.

"The biggest argument against the proposal was that they were 'watering down' the standards," Asbury said. "I do understand that, but I think this particular class has experienced so many changes in assessment and standards, and to ignore that would be unfair."

Asbury was also not surprised that the Senate is not giving the board the option of making changes.

"I'm not sure that the legislature will ever agree to that much autonomy for the SBE (State Board of Education)," Asbury said.

Others say the changes lower standards for diplomas too much. Tom Gunlock, former president of the state school board, has been asking the legislature to hold off until more testing data is available and the state can see if students score better when they see consequences of their scores.

"We raised the bar on high school graduation because too few of our students were prepared for success at the end of K-12 education," Gunlock wrote to The Plain Dealer early this month. "We do our children a great disservice if we lower the graduation requirements without having all of the available facts."

He added: "The solution offered to the legislature should be rejected until these critical questions are answered."

The Fordham Institute also blasted the proposal as "sidestepping accountability."

"In the wake of political pressure and the reality of what it means not just to favor accountability but to implement it, lawmakers are being asked to walk back their expectations," policy analyst Jessica Poiner wrote on Fordham's website. "None of our reasons for raising the bar has changed. All that's changed is the reality that implementation will have unwelcome near-term consequences as we pursue necessary long-term gains."

Here's a summary of the new pathways to graduation, other than test scores, proposed in the Senate. Students must achieve two of the following:

- Attendance rate during senior year at least 93 percent;

- 2.5 GPA for senior year courses (minimum 4 full-year courses or equivalent)

- Complete a capstone senior project as defined by the district;

- Complete 120 hours work experience (including, but not limited to internship, work study, co-op and/or apprenticeship) or community service during the senior year, as defined by the district;

- Earn 3 or more credits in a College Credit Plus course at any time during the student's high school experience;

- Successfully complete an International Baccalaureate, or Advanced Placement course and earn a score on the respective exam that would earn college credit (4 on IB exam, 3 on AP exam) at any time during the student's high school experience;

- Earn a minimum Level 3 score on each of the reading for information, applied mathematics and locating information components of the WorkKeys exam (9 points total);

- Earn a State Board of Education approved, industry recognized credential or group of credentials equal to or greater than 3 points.

Read this and other articles at the Cleveland Plain Dealer


 
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