Navigating through high school can be a challenge for any student, but the class of 2018 has had a particularly bumpy road.

"With the class of 2018, this will be the first time in my career a group of students entered high school as freshmen not knowing what it would take to graduate," said Bill Wise, South-Western City School District superintendent.

This year's senior class was the first required to meet new graduation standards adopted by the Ohio General Assembly in 2014.

"They were designed to put an emphasis on making sure students were prepared for college or a job when they graduate," said Jill Burke, principal at Central Crossing High School.

In the standards adopted three years ago, beginning with the class of 2018, students were required to complete courses totaling at least 20 credits. Some districts, such as South-Western, require a total of 21 credits.

In addition, a student would need to earn at least 18 out of a possible 35 points on seven end-of-course exams or earn a remediation-free score in math and English on either the ACT or SAT to graduate.

Career-technical students had the option of earning an industry credential to show they were prepared for college or a job.

"All of those options are still in place for this year's seniors," said Bryan O'Shea, Grove City High School principal.

But as part of the state budget approved at the end of June, lawmakers added two new pathways that students in the class of 2018 could use.

"In one, students need to fulfill two out of nine criteria," Burke said. "This includes things like have an attendance rate of 93 percent or higher during their senior year, completing a capstone project during their senior year, earning a 2.5 GPA in the classes they take during 12th grade or completing 120 hours of work experience or community service," she said.

The rest of the criteria includes having earned at least three credit hours through College Credit Plus at any time during high school; passing an AP exam with a score sufficient to earn college credit; earning a WorkKeys work-readiness exam score of at least three on each of three test sections; obtaining a state-board-approved industry-recognized credential or credentials that equal at least three points; or meeting the requirements to earn an OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal.

Career-technical students also may complete an approved CTE training program and then fulfill one of three criteria.

There have been so many changes in state testing and state curriculum standards over the past four years, "we've basically had to meet with our students and their parents each year to explain what's been changed and make sure they understand how that impacts the student," O'Shea said.

Guidance counselors and other staffers at each district high school again will meet with parents and students as the new school year begins to make sure they understand the new pathways, Burke said.

"Our biggest concern is that a misunderstanding may occur," Burke said. "We don't want to see a student fail to graduate due to a technicality."

The new graduation requirements approved for the class of 2018 resulted after an analysis by the Ohio Department of Education indicated that only about two-thirds of this year's senior class were on target to meet the new testing standards as juniors.

"That was being seen in districts throughout the state," Wise said.

"Without these additional pathways, we and the state of Ohio were anticipating as much as a 30 percent decrease in the number of our students who would graduate this year," he said.

That could have meant as many as 45 percent of this year's seniors were at risk of not meeting the standards, Wise said.

The new pathways are expected to result in a more typical graduation rate this year, he said.

The 2015-16 state report card for South-Western showed the four-year graduation rate for the class of 2015 was 84.8 percent.

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