Update: Ohio Excels joined with the Alliance for High Quality Education, the Ohio 8 Coalition and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to develop a joint proposal for graduation. 

Click here to read an overview of the joint proposal. The text below describes Ohio Excels’ original graduation requirements proposal. 

 

Ohio’s Graduation Supports and Expectations

When students walk across the stage and receive their diploma, they should walk with the confidence that they are prepared for life after high school. Whether they immediately begin a career, join the military or choose to pursue post-secondary education, students need to be ready to succeed in the next step of their lives. The workforce today’s graduates face is very different from that of their parents and grandparents. Ohio and the nation’s economy are changing quickly, and these changes require more knowledge and skills than ever before. Researchers estimate that 83 percent of jobs paying less than $20 per hour will come under pressure from automation. As many as 47 percent of all U.S. jobs are at risk of elimination in the next 10-20 years.

It’s not just students and families who have a stake in graduation requirements. Higher education, the business community and the military rely on the diploma to signal that students are prepared. Unfortunately, this is not always true:

  • Too Many Students Leave High School Needing Remediation in College: Of all public high school graduates in the Class of 2017 who entered a public college or university in Ohio, 27 percent of them took at least one remedial course in English or math. Only 17 percent of students enrolled in remediation earn a degree.
  • Businesses Struggle to Find Qualified Workers: In a national survey of human resource professionals at companies of all sizes, 35 percent reported trouble hiring because candidates do not have the right technical skills. When surveyed, 67 percent of all employers looking for new employees say they are concerned about the growing skills gap, and 23 percent of small business owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their most important business problem.
  • The Military Struggles to Find Qualified Recruits: Researchers estimate that 71 percent of people aged 17 to 24 are not qualified for the military due to fitness, mental health and/or academic issues.

Ohio Excels Principles for a Graduation Policy

A diploma should be a credible, trustworthy indicator that Ohio’s 12th graders have acquired the knowledge and skills to be successful after high school. Ohio’s graduation system should:

  • Identify students as early as possible who are not on track for graduation;
  • Include supports and interventions to ensure students have ample time and opportunity to develop the needed knowledge and skills;
  • Provide professional development and training to educators so they are able to successfully implement supports to better prepare students for success;
  • Ensure schools have the resource investments to effectively implement interventions for students and training for educators;
  • Expect a minimum level of math and English competency that will lead to success after high school and not require college-level remediation;
  • Provide students flexibility to demonstrate competency in a way that aligns to their chosen pathway;
  • Allow educators to successfully manage and monitor the data and reporting and be understandable to students, families and educators; and
  • Be consistently implemented within all schools and throughout the state to ensure equitable expectations for all students.

State Graduation Policy Background

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) partnered with educators and content experts to develop more challenging academic standards eight years ago to better prepare students for success in the fast-paced, changing economy. As part of that effort, the Ohio General Assembly and State Board of Education created new graduation requirements in 2014 that were to begin for the Class of 2018. Instead of passing the five Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT), students who meet course requirements have three graduation pathways:

  1. Earn at least 18 of 35 graduation points across all seven end-of-course exams (students can earn one to five points on each exam);
  2. Earn a college- and career-ready score on the ACT or SAT; or
  3. Earn an industry-recognized credential or credentials and achieve a workforce readiness score on the WorkKeys assessment.

Due to concerns that too many students could not pass the new graduation assessments in the first year, the Ohio General Assembly, based on recommendations from the State Board of Education, adopted alternative – and easier – ways for students in the Class of 2018 to graduate. The new options, for instance, would allow a student to earn a diploma by simply meeting a 93 percent attendance requirement for their 12th grade year and completing 120 hours of community service, in lieu of demonstrating proficiency in English language arts and mathematics. The state extended a variation of these options for the Classes of 2019 and 2020 in last year’s lame duck session, with the expectation that the state will adopt a new permanent system of graduation requirements in spring 2019.

ODE and the State Board discussed the new graduation requirements with a taskforce of educators with limited representation from higher education and no representation from the business community. At the direction of the Ohio General Assembly, over the past few months ODE has begun to engage statewide business leaders in these discussions.

However, the business community remained concerned about the original State Board proposal. Our concerns included:

  • Scope: The proposal was limited in that it only focused on how to measure student performance and did not advocate for resources or address how to identify and help students more successfully attain proficiency by the 12th grade.  (Recent additions to the proposal may address these concerns.)
  • Complexity of Implementation: The proposal greatly increases the number of options for students to demonstrate proficiency.  However, these options add to the complexity of already stretched educator capacity and data collection systems, without a detailed plan for adequately preparing the students, educators and systems for success.
  • Quality Assurance: And perhaps most troubling is that not all of the options in the proposal require students to demonstrate proficiency in English language arts and mathematics, ensure equitable expectations for all students, consistency of implementation from district-to-district, school-to-school, and class-to-class, or include sufficient independent verification of student performance.

Ohio Excels’ Graduation Proposal

Building on its principles for a robust graduation policy that will help ensure greater student success, Ohio Excels developed a four-part proposal for policymakers’ consideration:

  • Early Identification: Identify and proactively notify students and families if students are at risk of not graduating on time, as early as middle school, but no later than the end of 9th grade.
  • Supports, Interventions and Resources: Focus on supports and interventions for identified students, including supports and resources for educators to better assist students.
  • Measurement: Use consistent, externally-verified (i.e., not teacher scored) requirements that accommodate students’ chosen pathways.
  • Implementation and Timeline: Develop a plan and timeline for successful implementation and proactively communicate that plan to students, families and educators. 

Guiding Questions for Policymakers

  • What interventions and supports should schools be expected to provide to students to ensure they are ready to graduate? 
  • How can these supports be better incorporated into the 10th, 11th and 12th grade years?
  • What supports do teachers need to effectively and successfully implement the supports?
  • What additional financial resources are needed to support implementation?

Identification

Identify students at risk of not graduating on time no later than the ninth grade through an early warning system and require written notification to students, parents and families.

  • The state should create principles for a research-based early warning system that includes students’ attendance, credit accumulation, school behavior, and academic assessments to identify at-risk students.
  • The state should allow districts to use their own early warning system or require them to use a state-developed system.  The state of Ohio has already invested millions of dollars in its “Student Success Dashboard,” but only a handful of districts currently use it.
  • Once a student is identified as at risk for not graduating on time, schools must promptly notify students, parents and families in writing. The school also must securely report the percent of students at risk of not graduating to the state department of education for monitoring purposes only.
  • This early warning system could incorporate the state’s current career advising policy, which includes a requirement for identifying students at risk of dropping out, that begins in the sixth grade.

Guiding Questions for Policymakers

  • How do we develop or adopt an early warning system to proactively notify students and their families, as early as possible, that students are not on path, or may need to exercise additional options to meet graduation expectations and earn a diploma?

Supports

Student supports should be at the center of Ohio’s graduation policy. Any student that schools find to be at risk of not graduating on time should immediately receive additional supports for as long as students need them, even after senior year for nongraduates. Educators should also receive the proper training and professional development to effectively implement the interventions to better ensure student success. 

  • The state should require supports and interventions but not prescribe specific interventions in law. Each student is different, and each school and district have different assets and resources to bring to bear. Supports could include wraparound services, additional coursework in certain subjects or more engaging and effective instructional approaches like project-based learning or career-technical education – which has a higher graduation rate than the state average.
  • ODE should develop a comprehensive warehouse of research-based interventions, the context in which they work and the data to back them up. ODE should also look to Ohio schools to see what is working and share best practices with the rest of the state. These could include wraparound services, additional coursework in certain subject areas, more engaging and effective instructional approaches leveraging experiential learning, like project-based learning or career-technical education.
  • For students who do not graduate on time, there should be instructional options available that provide the supports students need to earn a diploma while reducing the stigma associated with graduating late. This could include a 13th year at a community or technical college in a corequisite course – a course designed to provide remediation and course credit at the same time. This could also be offered during a student’s high school senior year. 
  • Educators may need professional development and additional resources to ensure the successful implementation of certain interventions to more effectively improve student achievement. The state should dedicate needed funding to ensure the likelihood of increased student success.

Measurement

To ensure equity of expectations, all students should demonstrate they are ready to graduate using a method that is aligned to the state’s career and college ready expectations, externally verified, and consistent throughout the state. However, as long as measures meet the above criteria, there should be some flexibility for students to demonstrate their readiness.

Under Ohio Excels’ graduation requirements proposal:

  • Students will have the flexibility to choose from four rigorous options which have a variety of ways to demonstrate readiness;
  • No single test will determine if a student can graduate; and
  • Students may demonstrate they are ready to graduate through non-test options.

All students will select from one of the four options that makes sense for their high school experience and for their plans after graduation:

  1. Ohio’s State TestsComplete the requirements for both of the following bullets:
    1. Earn 18 out of 35 points on seven end-of-course state tests; and
    2. Achieve a proficient level on at least one English-language arts and one math test.
  2. College and Career Readiness Tests – Complete the requirements for one of the following bullets:
    1. Earn remediation-free scores in math and English language arts on the ACT or SAT;
    2. Earn three or more College Credit Plus credits at any time during high school, in core academic subject areas;
    3. Earn credit for an Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) course and earn an AP exam score of three or higher or IB exam score of four or higher at any time during high school; or
    4. Earn a WorkKeys exam score of four on each of three test sections.
  1. Career Experience and Technical CompetencyComplete the requirements for one foundational demonstration and one other demonstration (either supporting or another foundational demonstration):
    1. Foundational Demonstration: Earn a total score of Proficient or better on career technical exams (WebXam) in at least four courses in a single career pathway;
    2. Foundational Demonstration: Earn an industry-recognized credential or credentials that equal 12 points;
    3. Foundational Demonstration: Complete a pre-apprenticeship or earn acceptance into an apprenticeship program in the student’s career field; or
    4. Supporting Demonstration: Complete a workplace experience totaling 250 hours with evidence of positive evaluations;
    5. Supporting Demonstration: Earn an OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal.
  2. Military Readiness Complete the requirements for both of the following bullets:
    1. Achieve a score on the ASVAB that would allow the student to enter any service branch; and
    2. Enter into a contract with the military to enlist upon graduation.

Guiding Questions for Policymakers

  • What do we want students to know and be able to do at the end of high school?
  • Is the proficient bar on state tests set at the appropriate level for the purposes of graduation?
  • Does the state need to adjust this level or create an additional cut score for graduation?
  • What is the absolute minimum level of performance that is acceptable for graduates?
  • What non-test measures can we use to measure students’ readiness for life after high school?
  • How do we ensure that these measures are all aligned to college and career ready expectations, independently verified and consistent throughout the state?

Implementation

The state must begin implementing a permanent graduation requirement system for the Class of 2021 even if some of its components must be phased in during subsequent years. Ohio cannot graduate another class of students without ensuring they are adequately prepared. Students should be ready for these expectations — the Class of 2021 was in sixth grade when the state fully implemented new academic standards and adopted the original graduation requirements. It is critical that Ohio begin implementing the new requirements as soon as possible to better ensure student success.  Continually moving the bar is disruptive and counterproductive to increasing student success. 

To ensure students are successful, state, district and school leaders must focus on the supports outlined in this proposal. This also includes:

  • Collecting data on the options that students use and student outcomes after high school while adhering to Ohio’s strict data protection laws for students.
  • Publicly reporting graduation data by district and subgroup outside of the district and school report card.
  • Expanding career-technical education enrollment so more students have access to career pathways that engage students and prepare them for in-demand jobs;
  • Increasing access to industry credentials through more senior-year credential programs, training for teachers on how to prepare students for the credentials and student credential exam fee reimbursement;
  • Attracting more mid-career professionals into schools so students can benefit from their experience and relationships in the business world; and
  • Creating additional partnerships between school districts and local businesses and business groups to expand access to high-quality internships, pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships and mentoring.

Guiding Questions for Policymakers

  • What do we need to do to prepare the system for these changes?
  • What is our commitment to a clear timeline?
  • What data will we collect?
  • How and when will the data be reported?

Talking Points from President Lisa Gray

Thank you for allowing me to address the Board today on the topic of Ohio graduation requirements.

Chairwoman Kohler, Vice-Chair McGuire, Superintendent DeMaria, board members and staff, my name is Lisa Gray and I am the president of Ohio Excels. 

Ohio Excels is a new business coalition focused on helping to improve the educational outcomes for all Ohio students.  We look forward to partnering with ODE and the Board, as well as other key education policy stakeholders in Ohio, as we pursue this important work on behalf of students and families.  I have shared our brochure which highlights Ohio Excels’ vision, mission and core principles, so I will not do that now.

I am here today to share our position on Ohio’s Graduation Requirements and the Board’s proposal.  I have provided you with a copy of our graduation requirements policy position paper. For the sake of time, I will provide an overview of our position and highlight a few concerns.

Before I do that, I want to thank Superintendent DeMaria, Shaun, John, Sarah, Brad, Cassie and others for working with Ohio Excels and other statewide business organizations (Ohio Business Roundtable, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, National Federation of Independent Business – Ohio, Ohio Retail Merchants, Ohio Farm Bureau, and the Ohio Restaurant Association) over the last couple of months. 

While my forthcoming remarks will highlight Ohio Excels’ remaining concerns, we have worked together with ODE to address many other concerns, some of which are reflected in the revised Board document that Superintendent DeMaria has prepared for your approval today.  We very much appreciate this opportunity to engage.

Ohio Excels believes strongly that an Ohio diploma should be a credible, trustworthy indicator that Ohio’s 12th graders have acquired the knowledge and skills to be successful after high school – whatever they choose to pursue.

As you all know, the workforce today’s graduates face is very different from that of their parents and grandparents. Ohio and the nation’s economy are changing quickly, and these changes require more knowledge and skills than ever before. Researchers estimate that 83 percent of jobs paying less than $20 per hour will come under pressure from automation. As many as 47 percent of all U.S. jobs are at risk of elimination in the next 10-20 years.  And the list goes on.

Higher education, employers and the military rely on the diploma to signal that students are prepared. Unfortunately, this is not always true:

  • Too many students leave high school needing remediation in college;
  • Businesses struggle to find qualified workers;
  • The military struggles to find qualified recruits; and
  • Too many graduates struggle to find meaningful employment.

As Ohio Excels considered the graduation challenge in Ohio, we established a set of guiding principles to define our work.

We believe Ohio’s graduation system should:

Identify students as early as possible who are not on track for graduation and proactively notify students and families;

• Include supports, interventions and resources to ensure students have ample time and opportunity to develop the needed knowledge and skills;

• Provide professional development and training to educators so they are able to successfully implement supports to better prepare students for success;

• Expect a minimum level of math and English competency that will lead to success after high school;

Provide students flexibility to demonstrate competency in a way that aligns to a students’ chosen pathway, not just test-based;

• Allow educators to successfully manage and monitor the data and reporting and be understandable to students, families and educators; and

• Be consistently implemented within schools and throughout the state to ensure equitable expectations for all students.

After listening to the Board’s discussions on the graduation requirements and engaging with ODE staff in the last few months, we continue to have concerns about what will be proposed to the Ohio General Assembly in April. 

Our strongest concern is about the inclusion of the culminating student experience as a graduation requirement.  We believe that capstone projects and culminating student experiences can be important strategies for deep teaching and learning, if done well.  But we do not believe they are appropriate as a graduation requirement.  There are simply too many potential pitfalls.  These include the strong potential for inequitable expectations for students, variability in scoring, and inconsistent implementation.  Based on the principles I mentioned earlier, we believe the State Board’s current proposal has:

  • Too narrow a focus on simply the graduation measurement;
  • Insufficient focus on early warning systems and proactive communication to students and families;
  • Inadequate attention to the supports, interventions and resources needed to better prepare students in attaining the necessary knowledge and skills;
  • Lack of consistent and equitable performance expectations for all Ohio students that will likely disadvantage our most challenged students yet again;
  • Lack of sufficient external verification of student performance;
  • Complexity of implementation that will likely lead to inconsistent expectations from district-to-district, school-to-school and class-to-class; and
  • No clear definition of what proficiency means in English language arts and mathematics.

This last issue is one that we believe can be addressed by reviewing the current end-of-course exam cut scores.  A taskforce of educators, higher education faculty, business leaders and other community leaders should review the expectations and make a recommendation about whether the cut scores and points are set at the right level for graduation purposes. 

And before I conclude, I would be remiss if I did not mention again that our proposal includes “non-test options” for students to demonstrate that they have acquired the knowledge and skills that Ohio educators, ODE and the State Board of Education have determined are needed to be successful after high school.  But our “non-test options” do not include attendance, GPA or a culminating student experience, for the reasons I have mentioned.

I would encourage you all to review our proposal and reach out if you have any questions or comments.

Thank you for your time today and your work on behalf of Ohio’s students. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

©2019 Ohio Excels