Local schools are selecting agriculture education "pathways" under new state requirements intended to better assess their programs and improve articulation to colleges.
"It's a little clearer what students are learning, what students are coming out with," said Ike Kershaw, assistant director of career technical education for the Ohio Department of Education.
The state has determined seven career pathways, each of which contains a number of specific course descriptions from which schools can choose their offerings. A school must offer at least four courses a year in order to continue receiving state funding to support its ag program. Students will also be assessed on what they've learned.
At a recent Marietta City Board of Education meeting, high school ag teacher and FFA adviser Brian Welch explained that for years, ag classes tended to be very broad, allowing teachers to adapt their courses based on local needs. The downside was that each school's offerings varied, which could present a challenge in determining how much college credit they'd earned.
"It was very difficult for Ag I, II, III or IV to transfer," Welch said.
Welch recommended the school go with the agribusiness and production systems pathway. Since classes are more specific, he said, there won't be the usual rotation of four to six weeks of animal science, plant science and others as in the past.
Agricultural and industrial equipment.
Agribusiness and production systems.
Natural resource management.
Animal science and management.
Food science and technology.
Biotechnology for food, plant and animal science.
Source: Ohio Department of Education.
"The unfortunate side of it is there might be a little less room for wrench-turning for some of my mechanical students," he said.
But Welch pointed out the school can change the classes it offers within the pathway.
The change is not intended to take away local flexibility, Kershaw said. In addition to being able to choose courses under a specific pathway, the context for the courses is open, meaning schools can focus on animals and agricultural methods specific to their region, he said.
Like Marietta, the Fort Frye and Waterford Local school districts have chosen the agribusiness and production systems pathway. Information on other districts was not immediately available.
"It's most closely related to what's been successful," said Noreen Mullens, curriculum director for Fort Frye Local Schools.
Waterford High School ag teacher Matt Hartline said the pathway is more traditional and he doesn't expect to have to come up with a lot of new material.
One potential area of concern is the requirement to offer four year-long classes or lose funding. Smaller schools, like Waterford, might struggle to get enough students to take them, Hartline said.
"That's a real negative end of it for smaller high schools," he said.
Although the school's animal science class only had one student this year, Hartline said he doesn't expect filling the classes to be a problem.
The district receives $3,636.84 for ag and similar programs, according to Wolf Creek Treasurer Rachel Miller. Hartline said that loss would not eliminate the program but it could have other effects.
While the changes can seem confusing at first, Hartline said he thinks they will end up being positive, especially the addition of assessments.
"Basically it's like anything else - are we teaching what we're supposed to be teaching or are we giving you guys money to build sawhorses all year?" he said. "It makes our program more credible."