School leaders voice concerns

By Melanie Speicher -

SIDNEY — A rally calling for changes to the graduation requirements beginning with the Class of 2018 brought together Ohio’s public school officials Tuesday in Columbus. The new graduation requirements call for more demanding tests.

Before the new requirements, students had to pass the Ohio Graduation Tests. With the new program, students must take seven end-of-course exams to earn points toward the 18 “point” total needed to graduate.

Locally, Shelby County superintendents are also concerned about the new requirements.

“As with the previous state tests used to determine students’ graduation, these new tests will prove challenging to some students,” said Sidney Superintendent John Scheu. “We will have students who will have to retake tests in order to gain the points they need toward earning the 18 required points.

“We have trust in our high school counselors’ knowledge of the new requirements and their intent to open up communication with students and parents about where students stand, especially after the majority of their tests are done at the end of their sophomore year,” said Scheu. “We plan to create reports that allow easier tracking and access to each students’ total points that will serve as a guide when planning what path needs to be taken with each student. Our teachers continue to teach the standards and focus on supporting students in acquiring an education that will serve them in pursuing post-secondary endeavors.”

Fairlawn Local Schools Superintendent Jeff Hobbs said approximately 40 percent of their juniors are not on track to graduate unless the system is changed.

“Like most schools we are retesting our students who scored below proficient with the hope they will improve,” said Hobbs. “It is crazy to think that one test trumps a whole year of class room teaching. Our students have had three different tests in three years and our teachers are getting no feedback on the End-of-Course exams. This model has set students up for failure.”

Dan Holland, Fort Loramie Local Schools superintendent, said the district is keeping a close watch on the members of the Class of 2018 and beyond to ensure they meet graduation requirements.

“There could potentially be a negative effect on a few of our students. With students still needing to take the government test, and some students for the Class of ’18 possibly needing to take a geometry exam, it’s still a little early to say for sure,” said Holland.

Holland said there are only a few students who may not meet the graduation requirements.

“Currently, we only have a few students that could potentially be in this situation,” said Holland. “With these students we are communicating with them to let them know their cumulative point totals, and looking to see if retesting of any end of course exams is our best option. If we decide to retest on any end of course exams, we would want to offer some form of additional remediation or intervention in that subject area to help the student be successful.”

Beginning with the Class of 2018, students must earn 18 “points” from scores on seven end-of-course exams to graduate. They must a minimum of four points in math, four points in English an six points across science and social studies.

End-of-course exams are algebra I and geometry or integrated math I and II; biology; American history and American government; and English I and English II.

According to the Ohio Department of Education’s website, “Students studying Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in biology, American history or American government may take and substitute test scores for end-of-course state exams to avoid double testing. Students also may substitute grades from College Credit Plus courses in these science and social studies subjects for end-of-course state exams.”

“Students earn points on state-approved end of course exams (EOCs). Currently students need to take EOCs in the following subject areas: English I, English II, Biology, Algebra I, Geometry, American History and America Government,” said Holland. “Again, a few students may be affected by not earning the necessary 18 points to graduate. Students can earn a score between 1 and 5 points on a test. To graduate, the student will need a cumulative total of at least 18 points.”

With the additions to the graduation requirements, Holland said it’s too early to tell if the state is setting the students up for failure.

“At this time, I feel that it’s too early to say whether or not it is setting students up for failure,” said Holland. “We feel as if we are preparing our students to be leaders and to be successful when they graduate from Fort Loramie Schools. I’m not certain that changing graduation requirements changes our overall goal and mission of educating our students.”

Achieving academic success for their students is the goal for the administration and staff at Botkins Local School.

“At Botkins Local School the new state requirements will potentially only affect a small number of our students. That being said if it affects even one student it is a big deal to us,” said Superintendent Jeff McPheron. “The ultimate goal for students and families as their children go through the public education system is that they will be prepared for the next steps in their lives and graduate with a diploma.”

Botkins students, he said, will be well prepared for the new requirements.

“We believe we offer a top notch education that is based on well rounded curriculum and experiences for our students. We teach standards based curriculum and not to a specific test,” said McPheron. “Our students are very prepared for the challenges they face in education and the real world. As for students who are struggling to meet the new state requirements they will get an opportunity for tutoring and remediation prior to retaking tests.”

He is concerned about the decisions made by the state’s legislature.

“The state legislature does not fully understand the impact that several of their decisions have had on schools,” said McPheron. “Their efforts to increase the rigor in public education is noble and headed down the right track but they need to take more input from current educators and more time to make sure the tests measure the proper skills and at the proper levels for student success.”

Hardin-Houston Local Schools Superintedent Larry Claypool thinks some adjustments will be made to the requirements before the Class of 2018 graduates.

“In discussing the issue with Hardin-Houston’s HS Principal Ryan Maier, we both agree that most Principals and Superintendents think they will modify the points this coming spring due to have too many students in jeopardy of earning a diploma,” said Claypool. “We have a limited number of current juniors who are in jeopardy. In class instructional intervention is in place for those enrolled in those particular classes.”

The graduation requirements, said Claypool, are not realistic for all students.

“They don’t even have a credentialing test for all UVCC programs at this time,” said Claypool. “The 200 plus public school superintendents/BOE members and advocates who stood on the Capital south steps yesterday (Tuesday) at 10 a.m. to raise awareness of this issue demonstrate that this is truly a state-wide concern with very little optimism for the future as to student graduation success. … unless there’s a change. Numbers don’t lie.

“Yesterday’s peaceful demonstration was also a plea by public school officials to have more local control and be included in the investigation/drafting/proposing of all potentially new academic requirements and allow those of us who are professional educators to have some input on how to assist legislators in issues like this that affect our districts and communities,” said Claypool.

Russia Local Schools Superintendent Steve Rose feels 100 percent of his district’s juniors will be able to earn the number of points needed to graduate.

“Overall we feel that this will not have a major impact on our graduation rates for the 2017-18 school year,” said Rose. ” When looking at our current Juniors the overwhelming majority already have enough points to graduate and the student who do not are on track to earn these points before graduation. As of today we feel that 100 percent of our juniors are on track to graduate.

“In general,” said Rose, “we feel that the current point method is too complex and requires too much testing. We would like to see the state reduce the amount of testing needed for a student to graduate.”

Jackson Center Local Schools Superintendent Bill Reichert has shared his views on the requirements also.

“I actually don’t mind the EOC exams,” said Reichert. “Most of our classes were giving exams anyway, so having an exam that is more universal across the state is not that bad.

“My biggest complaint is the weight the tests are given,” he said. “Most of our kids will do fine on the tests and will have no trouble accumulating the points. However, I am sympathetic to those students that not only do poorly on tests, but fear/hate tests to begin with. The state provides alternatives for those students (ACT and Work keys), but they are just more tests.

“In essence, let’s take the kids that hate tests the most and give them more tests,” said Reichert. “I think the system could work as long as there is a locally controlled route that gives students an alternative to their diploma.”

Reichert said the district teachers feel there is too much testing time and therefore missed classroom time and the test does not take into consideration all the hard work leading up to the test.

While 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.

“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.

Ferguson 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.

By Melanie Speicher

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.