New graduation rules worry school leaders

COLUMBUS (AP) — Public school officials from around the state are raising concerns that a large number of high schoolers are in jeopardy of not graduating next school year because of new graduation requirements tied to more demanding tests.

Superintendents from some districts estimate that one-third or more of their juniors are at risk of not graduating next year unless officials alter new requirements that were slated to begin with the class of 2018.

Students previously had to pass the Ohio Graduation Tests. Now they must take seven more demanding end-of-course exams to earn points toward a total needed for graduation or achieve an alternative — getting a job credential or a remediation-free score on a college entrance exam.

Students can retake the tests, but school officials say too many of them caught up in the switch aren’t earning the points needed to graduate on time. In Cleveland’s district, for example, about half the students are lagging, The Plain Dealer reported.

“Students are in a panic,” said Kelly Braun, whose son is a junior in Mineral Ridge schools.

She said her son likes learning and usually does well on tests but has become worried about how the graduation points requirement will affect his class.

“He thinks it’s unfair,” she said.

“This current testing process has created a culture of fear and stress,” and science shows both inhibit a child’s ability to recall what he or she has learned, said Michael Ferguson, the superintendent of Genoa Area Local Schools near Toledo.

He said he understands the need for accountability but the new process doesn’t include enough flexibility to incorporate feedback and help students and teachers target what they need to work on.

He was speaking to a crowd of concerned superintendents, school board members, educators and other supporters from around Ohio who rallied Tuesday outside the Statehouse, where several superintendents urged the participants to keep the conversation going with lawmakers and state school board members to bring about change.

State board members are discussing potential changes such as lowering the necessary point total or phasing in the new requirements more slowly. The leader of the Senate Education Committee has indicated she might consider legislative changes if necessary.

The state school board president, Tom Gunlock, has acknowledged the need for a temporary solution while expressing continued support for maintaining higher standards.

Some officials argue that raising the bar gives a diploma more significance and demonstrates that graduates are prepared for going to college or joining the workforce, but opponents of the changes note the pressure that the testing puts on teenagers.

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