Ohio's legislature has made sure that high school seniors for the next two years don't fail to graduate because of low standardized test scores, but the focus soon will turn toward finding a long-term solution.
The Ohio Senate and House of Representatives gave final votes Dec. 6 to legislation creating alternative graduation requirements for the classes of 2019 and 2020, sending it to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) cast the lone vote against it.
The move addresses a concern that too many seniors are failing to meet the enhanced graduation requirements that were supposed to take effect with the class of 2018: scoring at least 18 out of 36 points on end-of-course exams, earning a remediation-free score on a college entrance exam, or earning an industry-recognized credential or a minimum score on a workforce-readiness test.
Concerned that too many students might not meet those standards, lawmakers agreed last year to add, for one year, softer paths for graduation, including good attendance, a 2.5 GPA for senior-year grades, a capstone project or holding a job.
Lawmakers will extend those extra options to the class of 2019 and then to the class of 2020 with tweaks, such as calculating the GPA for the student's junior as well as senior year, requiring a more rigorous capstone project and dropping the attendance option.
"I am comfortable that students will meet minimum standards for academic performance, as well as some of the social skills they're going to need to be successful in the workplace," said Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. "We feel these multiple pathways are creating several different ways for students to demonstrate at least minimum academic proficiency."
The Ohio Department of Education is required to recommend new, long-term graduation standards by April 1.
Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) said it's imperative that lawmakers craft long-term standards that stop shifting the goal posts on students and teachers. Key to that, he said, is determining what a high school diploma means.
"For me, it means you are reaching basic educational levels through high school. It does not necessarily mean that you are college-ready," Hottinger said. "I'm for high standards and for expecting students to achieve those. But we have to come to the recognition that over the last several years, we have consistently and constantly raised the bar for a high school diploma."
Critics say the point of raising the bar was to ensure that students are prepared when they leave high school.
"While adults in the education system will rejoice if this change becomes law, students taking an easier path ... will be left to pay the ultimate price," said Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
"Unfortunately, instead of rolling up our sleeves and helping all Ohio graduates attain the skills necessary to earn a living wage and support a family, we've once again said that simply showing up is enough."
Lehner said she isn't surprised that Ohio ended up never fully implementing the new standards.
"One of the biggest mistakes we make in education policy is turning the ship too fast," she said. "The notion that we could do that in one year was just not realistic. We do that far too often."