NOTE: The state board of education today debated the recent report of a graduation requirements workgroup. Among those providing testimony on the state’s high school graduation requirements was Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy here at Fordham. The following are his written remarks.

Thank you, President Elshoff, Governor Hollister, and State Board members, for the opportunity to provide public comment today.

In December, I testified before this body and urged caution and thoughtfulness when dealing with the challenge posed by the new higher standards required to earn a high school diploma. Since then, a committee appointed by Superintendent DeMaria has delved into the issue and offered its recommendations. They’ve recommended that students in the class of 2018 complete 2 of 6 additional requirements,[1] and functionally, that any required measure of academic preparedness for the class of 2018 be eliminated.

If you endorse the committee’s work and recommend the legislature do the same, there will undoubtedly be educators and students around the state breathing a sigh of relief. On its face, it sounds like a win/win.

It won’t be; moreover, the consequences will be far reaching.

Ohio’s graduation rate will climb precipitously. It’ll likely jump from the low 80s to over 90 percent. Yet it will signify nothing. It will be a paper victory. Our students won’t be able to read better, they won’t have better math skills, and they won’t be better prepared to be citizens.

Last week in his State of the State, Governor Kasich talked about the jobs of the future. He talked about the level of preparation needed for those exciting new jobs. Don’t forget about the high-skill jobs currently available. We’ve all heard repeatedly that good jobs in Ohio remain unfilled as there aren’t enough qualified applicants. Rather than embracing the challenge ahead or taking advantage of current opportunities, this change would be a step backward.

The graduation requirements committee talked about the importance of 21st-century skills that could go beyond test scores. I certainly wouldn’t disagree on their importance. Those 21st-century skills that businesses are clamoring for should be a supplement to and not a replacement for basic academic skills. After all, there’s little demand in the workforce for people who think creatively, work well with others, and are functionally illiterate.

To this point, I’ve mostly talked about the macro impact of the proposed change, but the impact at the student and school level would potentially be even more harmful.

There are juniors right now on track for 14, 15, 16 points on their end-of-course exams. The current system is pushing them to improve their scores to hit the 18 point benchmark that this body established.

What does that really mean? They are working hard to read better, compute better, and develop a better understanding of United States history. That is, after all, what we want.

These students aren’t alone though. Their schools are likely helping them try to reach that bar with additional classes, focused efforts to improve skills, and tutoring.

If the EOC requirement goes away, the student incentive to hit a higher bar disappears and so do the academic supports.

The impact will be greatest on the very low-income students, whom this change has been publicly purported to help. They’ll get their high school diploma, but they won’t be better prepared for life after high school. Many will struggle to get accepted into post-secondary programs. Many of those who are accepted will require costly remedial education. Those entering the workforce directly may very well be required to prove their skills once there since employers will no longer be assured that diploma recipients have even a base level of academic preparation, and those wishing to serve their country in the military may struggle with the entrance examination.

The recommended change, while well-intentioned and endeavoring to resolve a challenging situation, would return to a policy that President Bush famously referred to as the soft bigotry of low expectations. It would take Ohio back almost twenty-five years to 1994, the last time a student could get an Ohio high school diploma without demonstrating a certain level of high school proficiency.

If we believe that every student can learn, our duty is to do everything we can do to help each student reach his or her potential. This change falls woefully short and should be rejected.

[1]93 percent attendance during senior year; 2.5 grade point average for senior year courses; complete a “capstone” senior project; complete 120 hours of work/community service during senior year; complete a College Credit Plus course; complete an AP/IB course and earn credit-bearing score on the AP/IB exam.

Policy Priority:

Chad Aldis is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy. In this role, Chad plans and leads Fordham’s Ohio policy, advocacy, and research agenda . He represents the Institute in its work with the media, state and local policy makers, other education reform groups, and the public.

Chad has a strong background in Ohio education policy work having previously served as the…

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