Graduation relief for Ohio high schoolers? Lawmakers approve some, reject some

Dayton Public Schools Class of 2019 summer graduates are recognized by the school board and administration. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Dayton Public Schools Class of 2019 summer graduates are recognized by the school board and administration. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

State gives flexibility to juniors and seniors, but not to younger students taking state tests this year

Ohio’s Senate and House on Wednesday passed an amended bill to give current high school students some relief from normal graduation rules, but not as much relief as was in a previous version of the bill.

House Bill 67 permits schools to grant a diploma in 2021 to any student who had been on track to graduate before schools were interrupted by the COVID pandemic, if the principal “determines that the student has successfully completed the high school curriculum” or their special education program. That’s the same flexibility that was given to the Class of 2020.

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Wednesday’s amended version of HB 67 also includes an emergency clause — something the earlier version lacked — which is crucial to allow the law to take effect immediately, rather than in late June after most graduations are finished.

The final version of HB 67 also allows current juniors and seniors to use their final course grade in a state-tested subject (rather than a 2021 state end-of-course exam score) for graduation purposes.

The version the House passed two weeks ago had offered that grade-for-test swap for the next four years (covering all current high school students taking state end-of-course exams), but the final version limits it to juniors and seniors taking those tests this year.

That’s significant because many freshman and sophomores have spent this COVID-affected year taking Algebra I or English II — subjects where they need to pass a state test for the primary route to a diploma. There are options for students who fail those exams (future-year test retakes, career tech or military commitments, or earning college credit in high school), but some argued more flexibility should be granted.

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“We always want to talk about accountability for these students, but we should be talking about compassion and understanding,” said state Sen. Teresa Fedor, a veteran Education Committee member. “These young people have the most at stake because it is their futures that will be affected, not ours.”

Testing advocates from Ohio Excels and the Fordham Institute had argued the exams are important to show that current freshmen and sophomores have mastered those core math and English courses.

High school graduation in Ohio is not simple, as the rules have changed repeatedly. Current juniors and seniors are governed by one system, while the classes of 2023 and beyond have different requirements. The state’s guidance document for the 2023 system is 56 pages long.

Senators approved an amendment Fedor proposed to give current seniors one more option. They can qualify for a 2021 diploma if they’ve passed the minimum number of classroom credits and also earned the Ohio Means Jobs Readiness Seal.

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Other HB 67 provisions

The final version of the bill retains several House provisions, including:

** State testing windows are extended for an extra week this spring.

** Schools don’t have to administer the state American history exam this year (one of the few state tests that is not federally required).

** Ohio will seek the federally offered waiver of certain accountability standards for 20-21.

** The deadline for 20-21 state report cards for schools is moved back from Sept. 15 to Oct. 14.

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