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Ohio Graduation Crisis Likely Avoided By Change To State Law

Tom Hart/Flickr

More than three-quarters of Ohio high school seniors are on track to graduate in May, with another 19 percent “highly likely” to meet requirements to receive their diplomas.

The numbers come after Ohio Board of Education members and state lawmakers took action this year to avoid what they then called a crisis in the state’s education system.

Last fall, board members were told a third of the students in the Class of 2018 would not meet more rigorous graduation requirements implemented by the state Legislature in 2014.

Those requirements included receiving 20 course credits in addition to scoring 18 out of 36 on seven end-of-course exams, receiving a remediation free score on the ACT or SAT, or receiving an industry credential.

After numbers did not improve for the class, board members in April worked to come up with an additional path to graduation for the class. That path would require seniors to meet two of nine potential senior year requirements, including achieving a 93 percent attendance rate, having a 2.5 GPA, or completing a capstone project, among others.

A bill creating that alternative pathway was approved by lawmakers in June, helping to ease the so-called crisis and resulting in the updated numbers presented to the state Board of Education’s Achievement and Graduation Requirements Committee this week.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said that alternative path does a disservice to Ohio students, holding them to a lesser standard than their counterparts.

He also questioned whether it created a conflict with the federal law governing education, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“Our reading of [the Class of 2018 pathway] suggests that it is indeed a lower bar that’s been put in place and probably should not be counted for the federal graduation rate,” he said.

ESSA allows states to issue diplomas however they see fit, but they can only include in their graduation rate the students who earn a regular high school diploma as defined by state law.

Last month, board members were told students with disabilities who do not pass the same end of course exams as their nondisabled peers can no longer be counted in the federal graduation rate. Ohio has waived those tests for some students in the past.

The alternative path for the current graduating class is only available for the group itself and is contained in state code, therefore, could be counted, but Aldis said the state won’t know for sure until its individual ESSA compliance plan is approved by the federal government. That plan was submitted in September.

Members of the Achievement and Graduation Requirements Committee were also updated on the progress of the Class of 2019 this week. They were told 28 percent of the cohort needs “additional support and intervention” in order to graduate on time.

That statistic troubled many members of the committee, including its chair Kathleen McGervey of Avon.

McGervey said after the meeting she is not opposed to going to the full board and, later, the Legislature to ask that the additional pathway created for the Class of 2018 be extended to the Class of 2019.

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.