Board wants more flexibility in Ohio graduation requirements


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The State Board of Education wants to give current high school juniors more flexibility in how they can earn a diploma amid educators’ warnings that too many of those students are at risk of not graduating next school year under Ohio’s new graduation requirements.

Because the board’s authority is limited, it voted Tuesday to seek the Legislature’s permission to move ahead with such alternatives.

The requirements outline three paths to earn a diploma: through college entrance exams, through a career-readiness evaluation and work credential, or through end-of-course exams in a points-based system.

A work group that reviewed the rules has recommended adding alternatives to let students who score poorly on end-of-course exams earn a diploma by meeting additional conditions, such as strong attendance, participating in community service or completing career-technical training.

The resolution passed by the state board asks the Legislature to consider those recommendations and empower the board to develop such “alternative pathways to graduation.” That applies only to students who will be seniors next year.

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria had urged the board to take action Tuesday rather than waiting until its future monthly meetings. He acknowledged lawmakers and the board need time to deliberate, but said there’s urgency because school officials and affected students need clarification about graduation requirements as they prepare for next year.

Before voting, the board heard from one commenter who predicted that though the suggested alternatives would relieve some students and teachers, they could create a single-year jump in the graduation rate without meaningful change behind it.

“It will be a paper victory,” said Chad Aldis, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which supports charter schools. “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.”

Several board members also raised concerns that the Department of Education doesn’t have enough data to show how much the suggested alternatives might help address the problem and that the class of 2019 might face similar problems.

“I feel like it creates a system that’s going to be hard to turn off,” said Kara Morgan, a board member from Dublin. “And we don’t even know if it’ll work.”

Sen. Peggy Lehner, who leads the Senate education committee, told the board she anticipates the legislature will take action on the matter as part of state budget legislation being considered in the next few months.