At their March meeting, the State Board of Education voted to send its proposal for a new set of high school graduation requirements to the Ohio General Assembly for consideration. The board’s original proposal was unveiled last fall, but the final version sent to legislators is slightly different. For instance, the latest version includes assurances that the board will establish “quality-control mechanisms” for non-standardized assessments. These were added because members of Ohio’s business community—who were invited to share their thoughts on the proposal thanks to a mandate handed down by the legislature—expressed serious concerns about the rigor of the board’s proposal.

Business leaders are right to worry. In fact, it should worry quality and equity advocates of all backgrounds that this proposal has been sent to legislators. Even with bureaucratic additions put in place to address business leaders’ concerns, the state board’s proposal has some serious flaws regarding comparability, reliability, and objectivity. The sheer number of options available to students puts an enormous burden on teachers and schools. And without a far better data collection system, this plan will be extremely difficult to implement well.

Thankfully, the board’s proposal isn’t the only one out there. Ohio Excels, a non-profit coalition of business leaders dedicated to improving education in Ohio, recently released its own graduation proposal. It focuses on four key principles: early identification of students who are at risk of not graduating on time; meaningful and research-based supports, interventions, and resources for students and teachers; consistent and externally-verified measurements; and clear timelines and better data collection.

Under the Ohio Excels proposal, students would select one of four pathways to graduate:

Option 1: Ohio state tests

To complete this pathway, students must do two things: Earn eighteen out of thirty-five points on seven end-of-course (EOC) exams and achieve proficiency on at least one English and one math test. Although the state’s original pathways allowed students to earn eighteen EOC points and graduate, requiring proficiency on at least one English and one math test is new; under the original framework, it was mathematically possible for a student to fall short of proficiency on all four math and English EOCs and still earn enough points to graduate. Requiring proficiency is a high expectation, but it’s also an important one: Too many students are forced to take remedial courses when they get to college, and too many employers are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill open jobs. If the state fails to ensure that students are competent in English and math, these numbers will continue to rise.

Option 2: College and career readiness tests

Students can graduate based on college and career readiness by completing one of the following:

These criteria should look familiar, as they include the ACT/SAT pathway in the state’s “original” three graduation pathways, along with the more rigorous options included in the alternatives for the classes of 2018–20, such as AP and dual enrollment. The only major difference is that the score needed for each section of the WorkKeys exam has been raised from three to four.

Option 3: Career experience and technical competency

This pathway is designed with career-technical education (CTE) students in mind. The requirements are a little more complicated than the others. Students must complete one foundational demonstration and one additional demonstration, which can be either a foundational or a supporting one. The options include:

  • Foundational Demonstration: Earn a total score of proficient or better on career-technical exams (called WebXam in Ohio) in at least four courses in a single career pathway
  • Foundational Demonstration: Earn an industry-recognized credential or credentials that equal twelve points
  • Foundational Demonstration: Complete a pre-apprenticeship or earn acceptance into an apprenticeship program in the student’s career field
  • Supporting Demonstration: Complete a workplace experience totaling 250 hours with evidence of positive evaluations
  • Supporting Demonstration: Earn an OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal

Some of these options appear in the state board’s updated proposal. But the structure of the requirement recommended by Ohio Excels makes it more rigorous and more likely to produce prepared graduates. For example, the state board’s proposal allows students to graduate by scoring proficient on WebXam tests that measure math and reading knowledge. But the WebXam system was designed specifically for CTE programs. The assessments are aligned to Ohio’s career-field technical content standards and are meant to cover material from CTE courses in specific career fields and pathways. That’s why, unlike the state board, Ohio Excels recognizes the link between WebXams and career pathways. It also raises the bar so that students must be proficient in multiple courses.

Option 4: Military readiness

The state board proposal allows students to satisfy English and math graduation requirements by using ASVAB verbal and math skills tests. That’s a good concept since the exams are a determining factor for whether someone can serve in the military. However, the state board’s proposal doesn’t put any parameters at all around ASVAB use. The Ohio Excels proposal, on the other hand, requires that students earn a score that would allow them to enter any service branch. This score is set by a third party—the military—and not the state, offering a critical independent verification of rigor. And importantly, the proposal ensures that students who use this pathway to graduate actually intend to serve in the military; to graduate, students must earn a qualifying score on the ASVAB and enter into a contract to enlist.

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The graduation pathways proposed by Ohio Excels are far superior to what’s been proposed by the state board. Not only are they objective, comparable, and reliable, they require students to demonstrate academic mastery in ways that can be independently verified. The fact that these pathways have been proposed by leaders in Ohio’s business community should not be ignored. These are the same leaders who are looking to hire Ohio graduates, and they have an interest in making sure that students are well-prepared. The General Assembly would be wise to consider their ideas.

Policy Priority:
Jessica Poiner - Fordham

Jessica Poiner is a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked as a high school English teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, she taught for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District. A native of Ohio, Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Baldwin-Wallace University. 

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