As politicians shift from the primary to the general election, thousands of high school students face an uncertain road to a diploma due to an inequitable and flawed assessment system. With a long-term solution to the graduation problem a few years away, the legislature applied a temporary, if unproven, fix for the class of 2018. They have yet to act in the interest of the classes of 2019 and 2020 despite increasing pressure to do just that.
Just over a dozen states require students to satisfy the requirements of an assessment system in order to graduate. Ohio is one of those states. Our Graduation Requirement is an unnecessary mess, so much so that the legislature had to step in to apply a short-term solution for the class of 2018. The grad requirement is still problematic, which is why the legislature needs to act again and extend their short-term “additional pathways” to graduation for the classes of 2019 and 2020 until an equitable, realistic, and meaningful graduation requirement can be developed for the long term.
The graduating class of 2018 is the first to receive a diploma through Ohio’s End of Course Assessments and the new Graduation Requirement. While students can graduate with a remediation free score on a college entry test, or a vocational certification, the most common path is through state assessments. Students are asked to complete 7 assessments (Algebra, Geometry, ELA I, ELA II, Biology, American History, and American Government). On each test a student earns up to 5 points, and must compile 18 in order to graduate. A student needs to score an average of 2.57 (3) on each test to earn the required points. This 3 is what the state deems Proficient.
Since Ohio introduced and began these assessments five years ago, there have been significant issues. The test vendor changed from PARCC to AIR. Testing sessions were minimized, while the length and nature of the assessments stayed essentially the same. Due to the late release of a few tests, some students were given test points for course grades, while others were given the assessments. Students in some districts took paper and pencil tests until the complete switch to computers. This resulted in scoring discrepancies and a host of technological problems, even mistakenly scored tests. More recently, the elimination of human-scored test items has changed the nature of the tests themselves. This is not even close to a comprehensive list of the problems associated with these assessments.
When the first round of scores were released for the class of 2018, many were alarmed to find that proficiency rates for the math assessments statewide were at 30%. Scores on the other assessments were often not much better. When the Ohio Department of Education gave their first projections of graduation rates, they estimated that 30% of students statewide would be prevented from receiving a diploma. Because this is a state average, and long term data indicates that standardized test scores correlate with economics, the likely percentage of non-graduates in areas with high rates of economically disadvantaged students could have reached 60-70%. Ohio law essentially created a situation where students were, in many cases, going to be prevented from receiving a diploma simply because they are poor.
In response to this situation, activists statewide, including legislators and members of the State School Board, argued for a long term solution. The Ohio Department of Education continued to argue the necessity of the testing system. They believe the assessments prove a student’s college and career readiness despite the utter lack of research to prove their claim. Most colleges recognize a student’s Grade Point Average as the greatest predictor of academic success after high school. ODE also argued that the system was necessary because too many students were taking remediation classes their first year in college. However, according to another state agency, the Ohio Department of Higher Education, the percentage of students in need of remediation actually dropped between 2014 and 2015. Furthermore, the state’s claim that students are unprepared for the workforce has only been validated by ODE’s hand-picked members of the business community.
Fortunately, many education leaders are beginning to see the light, including personnel at ODE and the State School Board. The Ohio Legislature followed the advice of a Superintendent’s Workgroup last year and revised the Graduation Requirement for the class of 2018. They created “additional pathways” to graduation. These allow current seniors to satisfy other measures in their 12th grade year to prove they deserve a diploma. These included reaching certain levels of attendance and Grade Point Average, scores on the WorkKeys assessment, completion of a senior project, proof of work experience or community service, among other things. Basically, they take a more holistic view of a student’s educational experience and apply it to the criteria for graduation.
While these additional pathways are not perfect, many educators and others believe that they are satisfactorily bridging the gap between the current, abysmal Graduation Requirement and a more permanent, meaningful solution. The Ohio Department of Education, members of the State School Board, educational leaders, and other stakeholders have begun to develop a permanent solution to the issue of graduation. The problem is that they need more time, which is why the State School Board, in January, recommended an extension of the additional pathways to graduation for the classes of 2019 and 2020.
Now the legislature needs to act to make this a reality before the class of 2019 begins their senior year. This will allow them to plan their final approach to graduation. Representative Tavia Galonski will introduce legislation this week to make the extension of the pathways a reality. However, in order to obtain the required hearings and be voted out of the House Education Committee for a full vote, the Committee Chair, Representative Andy Brenner, must be in support. Interested individuals should contact Rep Brenner to encourage him to support this action. Other members of the House Ed Committee can be contacted as well to shore up support overall.
Reach House Education Committee Chair Andy Brenner by phone at (614)644-6711, on Twitter with @andrewbrenner, and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact information for remaining members of the committee and other education leaders in Columbus can be found through this link.