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Should Ohio keep softer high school graduation requirements?

(November 13, 2017) — Faced with a host of students who might not get their diplomas, the Ohio’s state school board backed off tougher graduation requirements for this year’s high school seniors.

But what happens now?

That was the question of the day during Monday’s board gathering.

Three potential options were presented:

Option A is to stick with the original three “pathways” lawmakers approved in 2014 that stipulate students must either earn at least 18 points out of a possible 36 on seven end-of-course tests; earn a “remediation-free” score on a college entrance exam; or obtain an industry credential showing they are ready for a job. These requirements were to have started with the class of 2018.

Option B says the state should add a fourth alternative to Option A that would showcase learning outside of standardized state assessments, such as a senior project, work experience or high school GPA.

Option C says Option A is too limited and that alternative demonstration options should be developed on a subject-by-subject basis.

“The concern with students in the class of 2019 and beyond is, are we capturing enough in our three traditional pathways for those students who may not necessarily be our best test takers?” asked Deputy State Superintendent John Richard.

About two-thirds of this year’s current high school juniors, the class of 2019, are on track to graduate under the current setup, Option A, according to data provided to the state Board of Education in October.

Board member Stephanie Dodd made it clear she wishes these three new options weren’t just merely being presented to the board.

“I wish that we were part of the conversation in developing it,” Dodd said. “I think that really needs to happen.”

She said does not support adding an additional pathway.

“I would be open to having a conversation about changing what we currently have and reworking it and re-envisioning that, but just adding another pathway, there’s nothing innovative about that,” Dodd said.

With a promise to prepare students for college and career, state lawmakers approved the original three graduation requirements in 2014, responding in large part to concerns that 40 percent of Ohio high-school graduates attending Ohio public colleges and universities needed remedial classes.

About three-fourth of Ohio high school seniors are on track to graduate in the spring, according to the October data. However, more are likely to earn their diploma thanks to new, softer standards put in place solely for for the class of 2018.

The extra options for the class of 2018 were included in the latest state budget bill signed in June, but the October statistics did not include students who will meet those additional options. Those options say students of only this year’s graduating class can graduate as long as they meet at least two additional qualifications that include showing up for school 93 percent of the time senior year, having a 2.5 GPA senior year, doing community service or having a job credential, or scoring a 3 or higher on an AP course.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, wants to know what high school graduation requirements look like in other states.

“Not that we want to be like any other state, but I think it’s also important that we are not far more rigorous than other states, nor far less,” Lehner said.

Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.