Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Tony Orr says new state standards for high school graduation are unreasonably high and will disqualify a significant number of seniors next school year.

High school juniors headed toward ‘cliff’ warns Hamilton school leader

Superintendent Tony Orr has been the most vocal of a growing chorus of Butler County superintendents who have begun to publicly criticize higher graduation standards that will directly impact many current juniors scheduled to graduate in spring 2018.

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Ohio has dropped the Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT) required for graduation, but Orr said the new state-mandated testing “far exceeds the OGTs and we’re going to punish kids for errors the state has committed.”

As many as 40 percent of seniors statewide — at the end of the 2017-2018 school year — will not be eligible to graduate under the new testing requirements, predicted Orr.

“Unless something changes, they (juniors) are headed toward a cliff,” he said.

The new testing system going into effect for current high school juniors requires a set of seven tests — two English, two math, two social studies and one science — each graded on a 1-to-5 point scale from limited to advanced.

Students must earn a total of 18 points on those seven tests to graduate. That means a student could score lower on some tests, and make up for it on others. But there are caveats — a student must score at least 4 combined points on the two math tests, 4 points on the two English tests, and 6 points on the three science/social studies tests. Students can retake the tests as needed.

There are two other ways to graduate without those test scores — scoring high enough to be remediation-free on the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, or earning an approved job credential along with a passing score on the a job readiness test in career tech programs.

Middletown City Schools Superintendent Sam Ison said he shares many of Orr’s concerns.

“The constant changing of the expectations is what frustrates educators,” Ison said.

More emphasis placed on getting the required 18 points means trading “more time from classroom instruction for test prep and remediation — and not to mention the loss of time building relationships with students,” he said.

“The tracking of the points and the increased stress on the student, not to mention the teachers, is becoming a more logistical nightmare,” Ison said.

Fairfield City Schools’ Lani Wildow, director of curriculum and instruction, said they too are concerned but are confident they can adjust to meet the new standards.

“As of today, we do have more kids in jeopardy of not reaching the new graduation requirements than we would like, however, everyone is pulling together to make plans to assist these students as well as implement changes to our system to prevent this type of thing from happening in our future,” Wildow said.

Those changes include intervention classes, adjusting content of some junior courses, and working to better implement Ohio’s Learning Standards, she said.

Lakota Local Schools Acting Superintendent Robb Voglemann said the district is managing the new, higher expectations.

“Fortunately, since transitioning to the new (testing) format, there’s been no dramatic change in students identified as off track in their requirements for graduation,” he said.

Ohio’s new Schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria recently emphasized that the new system is not purely pass/fall like the OGT. Given seven tests, a student could score below proficient (a score of 1 or 2 points) on some tests and still the 18 points required for the new graduation pathway.

“If our ultimate goal is the right one — to get students to a higher level — why should we be happy that they’ve already reached (graduation level on the OGT) by sophomore year?” DeMaria said, adding that students may need more time to master come concepts.

And Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Ohio Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) calls for patience and understanding, adding that whatever problems may stem from the new testing still may be ironed out before the first class is impacted in spring 2018.

“Obviously, this is going to be a topic which state policymakers will need to revisit,” whose BASA group represents Ohio school administrators in the state’s 613 districts.

“In fairness, those same policymakers were faced with the task of setting minimum cut scores on a third new set of high stake tests in three years without complete data results. After all, the previous state testing graduation requirements were based on state tests (OGT) that are no longer being administered.

“Ohio’s leaders have responded to this challenge before by developing alternatives paths to a diploma while continually raising standards in order to protect Ohio’s students from changing assessments and requirements while working toward making all Ohio students college and career ready,” said Ash, adding “I remain hopeful that Ohio is up to this newest challenge.”

But Hamilton school parent Chris Connell isn’t so sure.

“I was very concerned,” Connell, whose teen is a junior at Hamilton High School, said of his reaction to the new testing hurdles required of juniors.

Connell, who is a parent representative on the Hamilton Schools Business Advisory Council, said he is worried about the large number of students who will not be able to avoid the new testing due to high performance on ACT or SAT college exams or earning passage via career tech training and certification.

“Parents whose child earns As, Bs and an occasional C, will now have to worry about your kid even graduating,” he said.

Connell also worries about teachers being further pressured to teach to the test.

“These teachers are already so crunched for time … and if there are struggling students, they won’t have time for them,” he said.

Orr said he and other area superintendents, whom he declined to identify, are working on a proposal to remedy the alleged graduation test problems.

At least 200 of Ohio’s 613 school district superintendents are in communication to arrange a trip Columbus in the near future and lobby state legislators and the Ohio Department of Education for changes, he said.

“We’re supposed to champion for our students and there needs to be a change to help our kids,” Orr said.

Staff Writer Jeremy P. Kelley contributed to this report.

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