Ohio students who enter high school this fall will have a very different set of graduation requirements than their predecessors.
The class of 2018 will be the first one to take seven end-of-course exams – English I and II, two math courses, physical science, U.S. history and government – rather than the Ohio Graduation Test, thanks to legislation passed Wednesday by the Ohio House and Senate. The bill now heads to Gov. John Kasich.
Students who earn a cumulative passing score on those tests, along with completing the state’s course requirements would graduate. The course requirements still include four units of English and math, and three units of science and social studies.
But the new legislation provides two other pathways to graduation as well.
Students can graduate by earning a “remediation-free” score on either the ACT or SAT college entrance exam (the state has yet to decide which test it will use). As part of this plan, the state will, for the first time, pay the fee for every student to take one of those two tests in their junior year.
The last pathway to graduation is to earn an industry-recognized job credential or license, and achieve a passing score on an approved job skills assessment.
“It’s a recognition that not all kids are alike, and some have different goals and learning styles,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “We do think the end-of-course exams will be the pathway that most kids will take. Those (subject) tests that we have chosen are the tests that experts tell us are the greatest indicators of career and college readiness.”
During debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, Lehner called the existing Ohio Graduation Test essentially a test of eighth-grade knowledge, and said the new exams will be more rigorous.
Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, agreed that the new tests will be tougher under the Common Core, a 45-state effort to establish consistent standards of what students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade.
“Passing that graduation test was a minimal competency,” Asbury said. “The end-of-course exams will be closely aligned with the Ohio Learning Standards, which are more rigorous, so the end-of-course exams will be a better measure of student knowledge and performance.”
Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said hundreds of Ohio schools performed “field tests” of the new exams this spring, so they won’t appear brand-new to educators and students next year.
Lehner pointed out that a “safe harbor” provision passed by the legislature limits any penalties for school districts based on next year’s test scores, as schools are “getting used to new tests, new curriculum, new standards.”
Here’s a look at several education policy changes approved by the state legislature this week:
* Both chambers passed a bill adding flexibility to Ohio’s strong new teacher evaluation rules. This week’s bill means schools can choose to evaluate high-performing teachers less often, lowering administrative burdens. It also makes student academic progress and classroom performance worth 42.5 percent each of a teacher’s performance rating, down from 50 percent. The remaining 15 percent would be at the discretion of local districts.
Both Asbury of the school boards group, and state teachers union President Becky Higgins supported the bill, although Higgins said more work remained to fix what she called a flawed evaluation system.
* Both chambers passed a bill allowing public schools to excuse students to attend certain religious instruction off school property during school hours, and to permit districts to grant high school credit for the religious instruction.
* Asbury said he was glad the legislature approved College Credit Plus language allowing school districts to continue negotiating lower costs with local colleges for dual-enrollment credit options.
* Lehner touted the inclusion of another $16 million in state early-childhood funding for 2014-15, saying it would prevent a child from being immediately removed from a preschool or child-care program when a parent’s eligibility changed. She said she hopes that level of annual funding will be the minimum for the next state budget, although she’s advocate for even more.
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