Ohio could take a cue from Indiana on diplomas

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Ohio’s State Board of Education recently voted in favor of recommending that the legislature extend softer graduation requirements to the classes of 2019 and 2020. Such a move would be seriously misguided, since these expectations don’t require students to demonstrate academic mastery or readiness for college or career. Instead, the board suggests that students receive diplomas when they complete various non-academic options, including meeting attendance requirements or accruing a certain number of volunteer or internship hours.

An argument could certainly be made that the state should stick with the graduation requirements currently enshrined in law, which permit students to graduate if they have: achieved a passing cumulative score on seven end-of-course exams, achieved a “remediation-free” ACT or SAT score, or completed career and technical education requirements that include earning an industry recognized credential. After all, more than three-fourths of students in the class of 2018 are on track to graduate, even with these rigorous expectations in place.

However, if the General Assembly decides to make a change, they should consider other options aside from the proposal from the state board. One possibility is the model recently adopted by Indiana, beginning with its class of 2023. In order to graduate, Indiana students will need to 1) meet curricular requirements, 2) demonstrate employability skills, and 3) demonstrate their postsecondary readiness.

The curricular requirement is both simple and straightforward— students must take certain courses and earn a certain number of credits in order to graduate. This is similar to Ohio’s current coursework requirements. The employability and postsecondary readiness measures, on the other hand, allow for several different pathways that students may choose. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Employability skills

Students must demonstrate their employability skills by selecting and completing one of three pathways. The first is a project-based learning experience. Indiana’s State Board describes this pathway as a project “framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer.” Students can fulfill this requirement in a variety of ways, including a course capstone project, a research project, or the AP Capstone Assessment. The second is a service-learning experience, which includes participating in a “meaningful volunteer or civic engagement experience” or participating in a co-curricular or extracurricular activity or sport for at least one academic year. The final pathway is a work-based learning experience, and may include the completion of an internship or employment outside of school.

Postsecondary readiness  

This portion is aimed at ensuring students are ready for what comes after high school—and it recognizes that not all students will choose to go to college. Students can demonstrate their readiness by completing one of the following pathways: earning an honors diploma; meeting the college-ready benchmark scores on the ACT or SAT; earning a score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery that would qualify the student for placement into one of the branches of the US military; earning a state- and industry-recognized credential or certificate; completing a state-, federal-, or industry-recognized apprenticeship; earning a C average or higher in at least six high school credits in a career sequence; or earning a C average or higher in at least three  AP, IB, dual credit, Cambridge International, or CLEP courses. Indiana also permits districts to create local pathways for this requirement, so long as the pathway earns the approval of the state board.

Indiana’s model has its critics. Still, it is far superior to the plan recommended by the Ohio State Board in two key ways. First, Indiana’s pathways include nonacademic measures in addition to academic measures, not in place of them. The graduation alternatives proposed by the state board allow Ohio students to graduate without evidence that they are academically prepared for college or career. Indiana’s model, on the other hand, requires students to not only demonstrate skills important for the workplace but also success on a readiness measure that opens door to postsecondary opportunities (e.g. an apprenticeship).

Which brings us to the second reason: Indiana’s model addresses concerns about the one-size-fits-all nature of Ohio’s system. Critics of Ohio’s current graduation pathways have claimed that the system too heavily emphasizes tests and doesn’t allow students to demonstrate their learning in other ways. Adopting Indiana’s model would address these concerns without sacrificing the long-term prospects of graduating seniors by combining academic and non-academic requirements.

Ohio lawmakers may very well determine that maintaining the Buckeye State’s robust graduation requirements is the right course, a decision that we would applaud. But if they conclude that a change is warranted instead, the model adopted by Indiana is a better alternative to the academic-lite proposal being recommended by the state board.

 
 
Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.