Ohio students will now have 3 pathways to high school graduation, but some educators are worried

Talawanda, other districts question 2018 changes
Posted at 10:00 AM, Jan 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-09 10:00:20-05

CINCINNATI -- You'd think educators would be pleased with more ways for students to graduate. But the changes have some apprehensive about Ohio's high school graduation rates.

The new options, which will be implemented beginning with the class of 2018, are designed to offer three pathways to graduation. Under the previous requirements, students had to pass all five subjects of the Ohio Graduation Tests -- reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies.

Some educators fear the standards could lead to lower rather than higher graduation rates.

“When we did have the data that we needed … we realized there was a lot larger number of students that needed retesting than we’d had with the OGT,” said Talawanda Schools Curriculum Director Joan Stidham.

Starting in 2018, one pathway for students to meet the graduation requirements will entail achieving a cumulative passing score of 18 on seven end-of-course state tests. The applicable end-of-course exams are:

  • algebra I and geometry or integrated math I and II;
  • biology;
  • American history;
  • American government; and
  • English I and II.

The scoring formula for the exams was one of a few concerns expressed by Talawanda school board members in a letter to state legislators.

“The equation to gather the required 18 points from end-of-course exams is flawed,” Talawanda Communications Director Holli Morrish wrote in an email.

On a one-to-five scale, two points is considered a passing score on the tests. However, students are required to earn at least four points in both English and math and six points across science and social studies.

A second pathway allows students to meet the requirements for graduation by earning 12 points through a state-approved industry-recognized credential in a single career field. Students who go this route also must achieve a “workforce readiness” score on the WorkKeys assessment. The assessment, created by ACT, measures students’ workplace skills.

Because some of the credentials require students to be 18, earning the required points could be challenging for high schoolers.

“Many of the credentials are not easily accessible for high school students,” Stidham said.

A third option allows students to meet graduation requirements by achieving “remediation-free” scores on either the SAT or ACT.

Students who choose this pathway must achieve an English subscore of 18 or higher and a mathematics subscore of 22 or higher on the ACT. The reading subscore requirement is 21 for current high school juniors and 22 for students in later graduating classes. Subscore requirements for the SAT are 430 or higher in English, 450 or higher in reading and 520 or higher in mathematics.

“The cut scores for those were higher than any of us anticipated,” Stidham said.

In addition to meeting the standards in one of the three pathways, students also must earn a minimum of 20 credits from different classes to be eligible for graduation.

Leaders for districts including Talawanda, Mason, Milford and Mount Healthy have expressed concern about various aspects of the different pathways.

“We feel a sense of urgency because we’ve got juniors in high school who are going to face these new requirements,” Stidham said.

Mason City Schools Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline was among hundreds of district leaders from around the state who visited Columbus in November to protest the new graduation requirements. While Mason doesn’t have a high number of students off-track for graduation, she and other district officials are wary of the level of state control imposed by the requirements.

“Our district strongly advocates for local control, and we are disappointed that the state continues to make decisions that gravely impact Ohio students without necessary input from teachers, principals and superintendents,” Mason City Schools Public Information Officer Tracey Carson wrote in an email.

With no clear message from state leaders that the new requirements will be altered, leaders in local districts are doing their best to plan for the change -- a task that comes with its own challenge.

“We’re really having to work hard to make sure students understand the requirements and how to meet them,” Stidham said.