Columbus Dispatch: Ohio Senate offered competing plans for new graduation requirements
By Jim Siegel
Seeking to end Ohio’s decades-long struggle to determine what students should accomplish before being handed a high school diploma, a Senate panel on Tuesday considered competing proposals for new graduation standards.
After enacting but never fully enforcing Ohio’s current graduation standards, which involves earning enough points on seven end-of-course exams, students have been operating under alternative, softer requirements. The idea now is to potentially implement new standards as part of the two-year operating budget, which is required to be approved by the end of June.
“We in the business community think that a diploma should actually be meaningful,” said Pat Tiberi, president of the Ohio Business Roundtable. “Today, too many of our students leave high school needing remediation in college. Businesses are struggling to find workers.”
On Tuesday, a Senate budget subcommittee heard about two competing plans, one from the state Board of Education and the other from a trio of education and business groups.
Tiberi is a part of an education-focused business coalition known as Ohio Excels, which developed new graduation standards alongside education policy group and charter-school sponsor Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and an alliance of 74 suburban school districts.
Under their plan, in addition to current course completion, students would have to pass two end-of-course tests, algebra I and English II, instead of the current seven. New cut scores would be developed, somewhere between the state’s current measure of “basic” and “proficient.”
The state needs to stop chasing higher achievement scores for students to earn a diploma, said Tony Podojil, executive director of the Alliance for High Quality Education, the suburban schools group.
“That’s not the goal of a diploma, where you score,” he said. “The goal of the diploma is to get you to be well-rounded, broad-based, with things you can use once you leave high school.”
The proposal also requires each student to earn two new “diploma seals,” some developed locally, some by the state. The idea is for students to pick seals, such as “job readiness” or “honors diploma,” demonstrating that they have skills or knowledge that are preparing them for college, a career, additional training, or military service.
Meanwhile, the state Board of Education proposal would have students identify readiness in five areas: English, math, well-rounded content, technology, leadership and reasoning and social-emotional development.
Flexibility is built into each area. For example, a student also could use grade point average to demonstrate English and math knowledge. Capstone projects, which the state board calls “culminating student experience,” also could be used to satisfy some areas. Those are individual research projects that should be aligned to a student’s career interest.
“It is also an opportunity for a student to demonstrate important skills and attributes that are known to be indicators of post-high-school success, such as innovation, creativity, determination, grit, and tenacity,” state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said in written remarks. The state, he said, would ensure the projects have appropriate quality assurances.
Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, questioned why the three education and business groups did not include a capstone project as part of their graduation requirements, noting that she visited districts and was “super impressed” by how they are using capstones.
“It’s not that we don’t believe it can be a robust experience,” said Lisa Gray, president of Ohio Excels. But as a graduation measure, she said, the state isn’t ready to implement it consistently across Ohio.
“Evidence from states that have tried to do this ... is the consistency of those projects and expectations vary greatly,” Gray said.
Chad Aldis, a policy leader for the Fordham Institute, said he also doesn’t like that the state board proposal allows the usage of grade point averages for math and English.
“An algebra class in one district is, unfortunately, is not the same as an algebra class in another district,” he said.
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