State School Board Sends Graduation Debate to New Working Group
State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria will convene a workgroup of parents, legislators, education officials and others to devise answers to concerns that substantial numbers of Ohio students aren't on track to graduate on schedule, following action of the State Board of Education on Dec. 13.
The board voted to create the workgroup, which is to provide recommendations by April, after Vice President Tess Elshoff withdrew a proposal to lower the required number of points students must accrue on end-of-course exams to earn a diploma.
The action follows presentations Tuesday and at last month's board meeting from DeMaria and Ohio Department of Education (ODE) staff on exam score data for the class of 2018, the first group of students subject to the new requirements. Statistics show about 30 percent of students in that class are at risk of not graduating on time, though ODE staff cautioned the figures provide an incomplete picture of the situation. Students have two other pathways to graduation -- by earning a certain ACT or SAT score, and by earning an industry credentials and passing the WorkKeys assessment -- and information on re-takes, alternative assessments and other relevant data is scarce or unavailable at the moment.
Current law requires students to earn 18 points across seven end-of-course exams as one way to earn a diploma. Elshoff had proposed to lower that to 15, then gradually restore it to 18. DeMaria and staff presented data showing the potential effects on the proportion of students on track vs. off track were the threshold to be set at 14, 15, 16 or 17 points.
Given gaps in the data and the variety of ideas proposed to her, Elshoff said she was concerned about acting without additional information and input. The workgroup she proposed will consist of members of the General Assembly, board members, parent and business representatives and appointees of education groups representing administrators, teachers, educational service centers, career-technical education professionals and the like. Per Elshoff's resolution, the workgroup is to be run by an outside facilitator.
An April deadline will still allow the board to act in time if necessary to make change for the class of 2018, Elshoff said.
"I've heard a lot of ideas, and I've heard around this table a lot of people say there's a lot of unknowns yet," she said.
Her resolution passed 17-1, with board member Stephanie Dodd dissenting. Dodd proposed an alternative resolution to lower the end-of-course exam point threshold to 14 points until further notice, among other changes, but it was defeated. Dodd proposed an alternative resolution to lower the end-of-course exam point threshold to 14 points until further notice, among other changes, but it was defeated.
The final vote came several hours after the Standards and Graduation Requirements Committee started presentations and debate on the topic at 8 a.m. While he voted in favor of the resolution, positing a workgroup unlikely to make the situation worse, committee Chairman C. Todd Jones was critical of it and the earlier proposal to lower the graduation points threshold. He said local school officials really ought to be focusing their energy on identifying where their struggling students need additional remediation and assistance to help them achieve the current exam point's threshold.
"Just because people are jumping up and down saying do something doesn't mean you have to do it," he said.
"You're giving in to the Veruca Salts of the world. Remember her? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Don't care how, I want it now," Jones said.
Like Elshoff, other members of the board said even though they're sympathetic to the situation facing the class of 2018 and want to act, the lack of available data makes it difficult to decide the best solution.
"What we have heard, loud and clear from our constituents, all of them, is that we need to do something," said board member Nancy Hollister.
"I hear the board trying to craft a whole solution to everything right now," said board member Melanie Bolender. "Let's get going and take a vote on this resolution, with a few refinements maybe, but we can't do everything right now."
Dodd said the proposal for an outside working group is unnecessary, as the state board has the ability and obligation to address these matters. And she expressed concern that an April reporting deadline left too little time to truly address the problem.
"There is no need to have some external ODE-led task force to do the work that we are elected and appointed to do," said Dodd.
Board member Ron Rudduck said he was disappointed not to have a chance to vote on Elshoff's initial proposal to reduce the point threshold to 15, suggesting the board consider passing both resolutions so as to provide an immediate solution while letting the workgroup study additional changes.
"It appeared to me that was a very logical place to start, at 15," Rudduck said.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on December 13, 2016.