Butler County schools scramble to adjust to new graduation standards

With more than 40 percent of the 2018-19 school year already completed, last month Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law legislature allowing current high school seniors various non-testing alternatives to gain credits they need to graduate.

These new options for seniors who aren’t on track include capstone projects, documenting work/service hours or passing three components of the state’s job skills assessment.

MORE: High school seniors have more non-testing options to graduate

Officials in Butler County’s school systems said they had to move fast but now have in place programs necessary to allow their seniors who need more credits to earn them in time to graduate with their classmates.

But underlying frustrations with state education officials’ changing of graduation requirements in recent years – at times adding more student testing and less often reducing such testing – remain for some area superintendents.

And this year’s unusually late changes left some puzzled.

“While I’m thankful that the current seniors are finally aware of their graduation requirements, I’m still at a loss as to why our legislators waited this long to make the decision,” said Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller.

The new law gives current high school seniors the same graduation options as the Class of 2018. Students still have to pass the required 20 classroom credits, take all state “end-of-course” tests and retake any English or math tests on which 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.

Mike Holbrook, assistant superintendent of Hamilton schools, said his district was glad to see “the state of Ohio has recognized that students can demonstrate proficiency in a variety of methods to earn a high school diploma.”

Hamilton is using its 2-year-old Miami School building and program provide many of the highly focused and accelerated learning programs for seniors who need them, Holbrook said.

MORE: Hamilton touts new Miami School as a success

“Students that attend are able to focus specifically on the credit or credits needed to meet district capstone and graduation requirements. The most recent graduation change allows (students) to give their full attention to credits and course work without having to worry about meeting an arbitrary score on a state mandated standardized assessment,” he said.

At Monroe schools, officials followed the new law’s process through the Ohio Statehouse and were ready.

“Our administrators and counselors had anticipated these changes and were able to quickly apply the pathways used by last year’s class to our current seniors,” said Monroe Superintendent Kathy Demers.

“We are currently using an Individualized Graduation Plan with our seniors. Our administrators and counselors are meeting with select seniors to pinpoint the actual direction of their individual plan,” said Demers.

Pamela Theurer, coordinator of teaching and learning for Edgewood schools, said his district’s primary approach was further emphasizing the standard track for graduation.

“Not knowing what changes, if any, would take place for this graduating class, our approach has been to make sure students are well prepared for end-of-course exams, and that they will pass all required courses for graduation,” Theurer said.

But she said Edgewood has “been exploring options such as the ‘industry credential’ as an alternate pathway, which is through our Virtual Academy. We also partner with Butler Tech and some students enrolled there from Edgewood have an additional credential opportunity.”

(Staff Writer Jeremey P. Kelley contributed) 

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