As the 2018-19 academic year approaches its half-way mark, many high school seniors in Ohio find themselves understandably unnerved over their prospects for reaching a coveted milestone in their young lives.
The anxiety results from the uncertainty of their graduation five short months from now. Approximately 30,000 of the state’s 140,000 high school seniors face the very real prospect of not walking on stage to collect diplomas next spring, according to estimates from the Ohio Department of Education.
That’s because they have failed to reach a new and rigorous set of testing standards that have become mandatory statewide to guarantee them a spot in next May’s commencement procession.
No, this is not a case of an oversized lazy and lethargic segment of the Class of 2019 whining without reason over perfectly realistic graduation requirements.
Many of the state’s school district superintendents, boards of education, teachers, counselors and parents are siding with the students, agreeing that the new standards stand as unrealistic goal posts for many to reach this school year.
We, too, add our voice to the increasingly loud chorus of advocates for students in urging the Ohio General Assembly to slam the brakes on this runaway test train barreling toward massive failure.
The new requirements were adopted by the Department of Education and General Assembly, as lawmakers brainstormed ways to devise a better system than the much maligned Ohio Graduation Test to gauge acceptable student academic performance. The former system, in which 40 percent of high school graduates required high school remedial courses in college, clearly failed to get the desired results.
The new program requires students to collect points through tests in English, math, science and social studies. The exams reflect higher standards and expectations. Out of 35 possible points on the tests, they need to accumulate 18 points to graduate.
Unfortunately, many Ohio students cannot reach that relatively low bar, which indicates that perhaps the standards were raised too high and too fast.
Of course, we and others encourage higher standards and discourage any dumbing down of curriculum and testing that evaluates student mastery over it. But the exponential growth in failures with the new tests indicate something is awry and needs to be fixed – and soon.
Enter state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R- Kettering, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. Lehner is proposing extending a set of alternative pathways to graduation for the Class of 2019 as recommended by the state Department of Education. These include high senior-year GPAs, community service, participiation in work programs and internships and others. They are similar to those options provided the Class of 2018.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education is working on a comprehensive review of graduation requirements and expect a plan to be ready for legislative approval by next spring. But that’s too late, however, to help this year’s crop of seniors.
We suspect the new comprehensive standards will place less of an emphasis on standardized test scores as education specialists increasingly see flaws in overreliance upon them.
For example, Jennifer Zinth of the Education Commission of the States, said, “States have been moving away from so-called exit exams over the last several years – exit exams being state set exams that students are required to pass in order to graduate from high school.”
Stephanie Dodd, Ohio Board of Education member from Hebron, agrees. She said, “Having graduation based solely on test scores is very short-sighted and not the only way” to measure a student’s knowledge and skills.
We look forward to the new plan and hope it gets a full and open airing before its adoption. We hope it also can be a plan for the long term, as confusion over constant tinkering with testing and graduation requirements in Ohio in recent years is partly to blame for the crisis this year’s seniors face.
For now, though, the focus must be squarely on doing what is right for those 140,000 young men and women on edge this holiday season over quandaries about their immediate future. The short-term stopgap solution of extending the alternative pathways to commencement merits bipartisan support.
Lehner and others have proposed inserting the provisions into House Bill 477, a bill of general revisions in policies for elementary and secondary schools. They must act fast before the end of this session later this month. Then, in concert with education officials, a more comprehensive and less test-intensive set of requirements that can survive more than just a year or two must be developed, approved and implemented.