Most Ohioans likely didn’t notice the passage ofa few days prior to Christmas. That’s understandable, given the ongoing pandemic and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. But this bipartisan bill is chock full of education provisions that will have a significant impact on schools of all stripes. It’s worth a close look, particularly because it includes an “emergency measure” that requires the majority of its provisions to go into effect . Here’s a bird’s-eye view of what the bill seeks to accomplish.
Pausing school accountability
Last spring, Governor DeWinethat eliminated state testing and paused school accountability measures for the 2019–20 school year. While HB 409 does not cancel state exams for the coming spring, it extends the accountability pause through the (current) 2020–21 school year. That means that for the second year in a row, the Ohio Department of Education will not publish state report card ratings. The consequences associated with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee have also been waived, meaning schools are not required to retain students based solely on their reading scores. Similarly, ratings assigned to charter school sponsors for the 2020–21 school year won’t be used to determine sanctions and penalties.
It’s important to note that this pause on accountability does not impact existing sanctions or penalties that were already in effect prior to the pandemic, nor does it create a new starting point for measures that are based on ratings determined by multiple years of data. For example, districts that were subject to an Academic Distress Commission (ADC) during the prior year——will remain under the control of an ADC in the upcoming year. Data from the 2020–21 school year cannot be used to determine whether these district are eligible for the outlined in the . Similarly, low-performing schools that were previously identified for intervention based on will continue to receive the interventions outlined in their improvement plans during the 2021–22 school year. The pause also does not impact student eligibility for for the 2021–22 and 2022–23 school years.
Attendance tracking for e-schools
Determining the best way to track attendance at e-schools has been a priority for Ohio lawmakers since 2017, when attendance and enrollment issues at the now-defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) started. There have been a few attempts at legislative changes since then, but HB 409 is the first piece of legislation to explicitly outline how e-schools must track student attendance. Under the new law, students are considered in attendance if they meet one of two conditions: 1) they participate in at least 90 percent of the hours of instructional activities offered by their school, or 2) they are considered on pace for on-time completion in any course in which they are enrolled. The law identifies what qualifies as an “instructional activity,” but it’s left up to individual schools to come up with a definition for “on pace.”
HB 409 also mandates that e-schools adopt policies that identify how they plan to address chronically absent students. For example, schools are required to notify in writing the parent or guardian of a student who accumulates thirty or more hours of unexcused absences. If students fail to follow attendance guidelines after this notification, intervention efforts, and a “reasonable period of time,” then schools are permitted to disenroll students—but they must provide families with a list of alternative education options and notify the student’s resident district within forty-eight hours.
Flexibility regarding substitute teachers
Even during a typical school year, good substitute teachers arebecause it’s a that . The pandemic has made it that much , as Covid-19 infections and exposure protocols have forced teachers to quarantine and left school leaders scrambling to find replacements. from the state could lessen the pressure on schools, and —which was signed into law in November under emergency status— that would have expired in July 2020. HB 409 builds on these efforts by waiving the state requirement that substitute teachers hold a post-secondary degree. For the 2020–21 school year only, districts and schools are permitted to employ substitute teachers without post-secondary credentials as long as they meet all other requirements and procedures (like passing background checks).
Flexibility for the state superintendent
Responding to an ongoing global health crisis calls for flexibility, and HB 409 offers plenty of it to the state superintendent. For the 2020–21 school year, Ohio’s education chief has the power to extend or waive the deadlines on several state policies, including teacher evaluations, school safety drills, and the identification and screening of gifted students. Notably, the bill explicitly states that the superintendent’s authority to waive or extend deadlines does not apply to application deadlines for.
All things considered, nothing in HB 409 is particularly surprising. Revising attendance policies for e-schools and suspending the state’s accountability system due to the pandemic have beenfor a while now. The bill’s provisions are reasonable responses to problems that have surfaced thanks to the pandemic. Overall, this is a measured piece of legislation that strikes a solid balance between flexibility and accountability.