Potential change to graduation requirements could see rates plummet

School officials say tests would determine if a diploma is earned

A potential change to state graduation requirements for the class of seniors who just started high school has created a state of high anxiety for school administrators and district leaders.

To graduate under state rules, seniors have to accumulate 18 points in end-of-course exams, but in 2018 the state included what are termed “alternative pathways” to accumulate those points. Those pathways included capstone projects, community service and other non-testing methods of acquiring the points needed to get a diploma.

To date, the state has not renewed the pathways options, so many students in the class of 2019 are facing a struggle by having to rely on test results alone to graduate.

“The effect could be enormous,” Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton said this week. “I’d estimate that last year 35 to 40 percent of the graduating class were on alternate pathways, and I think that number is fairly consistent throughout the region, if not the state. The potential is that if the legislature doesn’t act on this in November, next year we could have 30 percent or more fewer graduates. That would be catastrophic.”

Hampton, who is also a member of a state committee examining graduation requirements, said the impact will hit students who have poor test-taking skills disproportionately.

“If you’re a strong student who does well in course work, you’ll get your points,” he said. “But because the expectations became so rigid, it really has an impact on kids who don’t test well.”

Chad Rinard, principal at Marietta High School, said 52 of about 200 graduates in 2018 used alternative pathways to meet graduation requirements.

“They were able to graduate because of those options,” he said.

This year, more than 60 – about 35 percent of the senior class – are going be challenged to meet the requirements unless the alternative pathway system is renewed, he said.

The concern is universal across the county. Frontier Local Schools Superintendent Brian Rentsch said he’s worried that some students, when faced with the uphill battle of accumulating points through testing, might just decide they can’t win the battle and drop out.

At Waterford High School in the Wolf Creek Local Schools district, superintendent Doug Baldwin said 15 students from the 2018 class are re-taking end-of-course tests in December in a last-ditch effort to acquire a diploma.

“Several of the 15 will meet the requirement with industrial credentials,” Baldwin said. “Obviously, I do not believe that acquiring points on a standardized test makes a well-rounded student ready to succeed in the workforce or at a post-secondary institution.”

The value of a high school diploma is unquestionable, Hampton said, and the key to higher education for many and at minimum a necessity for getting a job. What the requirements should be to acquire a diploma, however, is a contentious subject for educators.

Hampton is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for High School Graduation Requirements, a group crafting recommendations for the state board and legislators.

“We have parent advocates, secondary education and higher education professionals, guidance counselors, career tech and high school principals, state board members, it’s a pretty diverse group,” he said. “We’re looking at making a recommendation for a multi-faceted approach to a diploma. We feel you can demonstrate competency in many ways, not just one, and we see value in the differences but still getting to the same outcome.”

The group, according to an account in Focus Education of its most recent meeting, is also looking at a recommendation to extend the alternative pathways concept through 2020 while a more permanent solution is being sought.

“The alternative path came about because we were going to have a substantial number of students not meet the mark,” Hampton said. “We were able to make it work, and I don’t know if it was the best answer for the long term but it prevented a lot problems for kids.”

Rinard said Marietta High will continue to assign capstone projects – multi-faceted final year projects – because they are worthwhile and valuable, even if they don’t count toward graduation points. But he feels that capstone projects, community service work and other efforts that fall into the alternative pathways should count for something.

“Last year we had a girl who was the first person in her family ever to graduate from high school,” he said.

Without the alternative pathways, the girl might not have had that achievement.

“She was ecstatic, and she worked her tail off to get it,” Rinard said.

In addition to shutting some students out, the reliance on academic testing is increasingly diverging from the real world experience of students after they leave high school, he said.

“Unfortunately, that’s the rule we have to play by,” he said. “We all know that work ethic and commitment will get you pretty far in life. If there’s a question, you can always find an answer, you can look online, find somebody who knows, but with the test you have to have instant recollection. In real life, if there’s a question you can’t answer, you’re just going to find out and get back to the person.”

The seven end-of-course required exam subjects:

•Algebra I or Integrated Math I

•Geometry or Integrated Math II

•Biology

•American History

•American Government

•English I

•English II

Range of points for each exam: 1 – 5

Points required to graduate: 18

Source: Ohio Department of Education.

Substitute Advanced Placement, College Credit Plus or International Baccalaureate tests:

•American History, American Government, Biology (students still required to take end-of-course exams in biology)

•No alternative pathways to acquiring points is yet available for students in the class of 2019. In 2018, students could gain points through capstone projects, community service work and other non-testing options.

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