Current Ohio high school seniors and juniors will not have to pass state tests to graduate, after both the Senate and House overwhelmingly approved alternative graduation pathways on Thursday.
The Senate approved House Bill 491 by a 29-0 vote, and the House passed it 78-1. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. Legislators said last week that the governor’s office supports the changes.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, cited a fundamental conflict. She said on one side, school officials and parents worried that a large number of students wouldn’t graduate under the new, harder state tests. But Lehner said others had “legitimate concerns” that alternate non-test pathways were not sufficiently challenging.
“I believe that working with interested parties and our members we have struck a balance here between those interests, so student success can be measured in a multitude of ways that are challenging but flexible,” Lehner said.
Many educators and high school seniors who feared a graduation crisis will breathe a sigh of relief, but only a brief one. Now they must start compiling capstone projects, documenting work/service hours and checking whether they have a shot at other graduation pathways, given that 40 percent of the school year is already in the books.
House Bill 491 gives current high school seniors exactly the same graduation options that the Class of 2018 had. Students still have to pass the required 20 classroom credits, take all state “end-of-course” tests and retake any English or math tests where they scored a 1 or 2 on the 5-point scale.
But instead of needing certain scores on those tests, students can earn a diploma by meeting two of nine unrelated standards that include 93 percent senior-year attendance, strong senior-year classroom grades, 120 work/service hours, a “capstone” project and a variety of other options. Students who already passed state tests would still qualify to graduate via that route.
The amendment sets largely the same graduation alternatives for the Class of 2020, with a few tweaks. Work/service hours and capstone projects for Class of 2020 students would have to meet standards to be set next spring by the Ohio Department of Education. The strong classroom grades option would apply to courses taken in both junior and senior year. The “good attendance” option would not be available to the Class of 2020.
In the first half of next year, legislators are expected to settle on a long-term replacement for Ohio’s graduation standards for the Class of 2021 and beyond, with ODE required to present formal recommendations by April 1.
Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, urged other legislators to use the time between now and next spring to consider what they think a high school diploma should mean. Hottinger said he believes it should be tied to reaching basic education levels on high school material, not that a student needs to be college-ready.
Sen. Lou Terhar, R-Cincinnati, mentioned the possibility of making a range of diplomas available, rather than setting a single standard. Hottinger said whatever the legislature does, it needs to stick to that plan.
“I think it’s imperative that once we come to some conclusion by next spring, that we stop moving the goalposts,” Hottinger said, acknowledging that he was guilty of voting for some of the frequent changes. “On Day 1 of their freshman year they should know what their requirements are over the next four years to be able to obtain their high school diploma.”
If no change is made in the state legislature, current high school students would have these three pathways to a diploma, all of which also require students earn 20 course credits.
** Earn at least 18 of 35 points on seven end-of-course state tests, including minimums of four points in math, four points in English and six points across science and social studies.
** Earn state-approved job credentials in a single career field and earn the required score on WorkKeys, a work-readiness test.
** Earn “remediation-free” scores in math and English on either the ACT or SAT.
In addition to earning the 20 course credits, students would have to take required end-of-course state exams, and retake any state math or English test on which they scored less than 3 out of 5 points.
They would also need to meet two of the following nine standards:
** 93 percent senior-year attendance (Class of 2019 only)
** 2.5 GPA in at least four full-year senior-year courses (covers junior AND senior year courses for Class of 2020)
** Complete a “capstone” project
** Complete 120 hours of senior-year work or community service
** Earn three credit hours via College Credit Plus
** Pass an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course and score at least 3 on the AP exam or 4 on the IB exam
** Pass three components of the state’s job skills assessment
** Earn approved job credentials equal to at least three total points in Ohio’s system
** Earn the OhioMeansJobs readiness seal.
Earn the required course credits, including a four-course career-tech training program, plus take required end-of-course state exams. Then accomplish one of these three things:
** Earn a cumulative score of proficient on career-tech assessments
** Earn certain state-approved job credentials
** Complete 250 hours of workplace experience, with positive evaluations from a supervisor.