Ohio’s high school seniors finally know what they need to do in order to graduate in June, but uncertainty prevails for underclassmen.

Much to many parents’ relief, Ohio schools are finally back in session, and resolutions aren’t the only new guidelines shaping students’ post-holiday activity. Less than a week before Christmas, outgoing Governor John Kasich signed Substitute House Bill 491 (H.B. 491) into law, affirming the legislature’s overwhelming support for the bill.

Among other things, H.B. 491 establishes high school graduation requirements for the classes of 2019 and 2020, putting to rest current seniors’ lingering uncertainties about what they’ll need to accomplish over the next six months in order to earn a diploma. And while this newfound clarity is certainly a welcome — and, given the late hour, much needed — development, H.B. 491 is little more than a stopgap solution to an issue that has long generated a great deal of contentiousness and disarray in Ohio.

As State Senator Peggy Lehner professed during the legislative debate, “This is definitely a temporary thing until we get something better in place. I don’t think we’ll agonize over the details too much. We’ll just get it done…very, very soon.”

In the end, State Senator Lehner and her legislative colleagues “got it done” by choosing the easiest, most obvious option: affording the class of 2019 the same pathways to graduation as those afforded to the class of 2018.

Paving Alternate Pathways to Graduation

Starting with the class of 2006, Ohio seniors were required to pass the Ohio Graduation Test to earn a diploma, but concerns over the exam’s lack of difficulty and real world applicability resulted in the introduction of a harder test in 2013.

Unfortunately, this reimagined test proved to be something of an overcorrection, and a significant number of students failed to score the cumulative 18 points required to pass the series of seven five-point exams. In Dayton Public Schools, for instance, over half (54 percent) of the students in the class of 2018 earned fewer than 18 points on their graduation exams, a rate of failure similar to those found around the state — especially in economically disadvantaged districts.

Seeing the writing on the wall, just weeks before the 2017-2018 academic year, Governor Kasich signed a state budget that included an amendment establishing alternate pathways to graduation for students in the class of 2018 who failed to pass the more difficult version of the Ohio Graduation Test.

Under the revised graduation requirements, students who earned the requisite number of course credits in school and scored at least a three out of five on the English and Mathematics components of the Ohio Graduation Test were able to graduate even if they failed to reach the 18-point threshold — provided they met a set of alternate standards.

If, for instance, a student notched a “remediation-free score” on the ACT or SAT and met the above requirements, they’d qualify for graduation regardless of whether they accumulated 18 points on the Ohio Graduation Test. Such a student could also complete a four-course career-technical training program or fulfill any two of nine “alternate requirements” — including 93 percent attendance during their senior year, a senior year capstone project, 120 hours of senior year work or community service, or a 2.5 GPA in at least four senior year courses — in lieu of passing the Ohio Graduation Test.

A Temporary Fix

With a handful of exceptions, H.B. 491 extends these alternate pathways to graduation to the classes of 2019 and 2020. Though next year’s seniors will be subject to stricter standards governing their capstone projects and graduation-by-GPA option (and will not have the option of graduating via good attendance), neither the class of 2019 nor the class of 2020 will have to pass the Ohio Graduation Test to complete their secondary education.

That said, the future of Ohio’s graduation requirements remains very much in flux. The Ohio Department of Education is obligated to present a plan for the class of 2021 (and beyond) no later than April 1, and many stakeholders are pushing the department to craft a plan that is tailored to the realities of the modern workplace.

“Employers are looking for 21st century skills — skills we are not testing for,” argues State Board Member Charlotte McGuire. “So [the question is] how do you blend foundational academic skills with those 21st century skills to deal with the whole child…creative thinking, resiliency, collaboration, communication?”

Preparing for the Future

If the convoluted history of Ohio’s graduation requirements has taught school districts anything, it’s that flexibility and responsiveness cannot be overvalued. Helping high school seniors meet standards that are cemented a matter of months before graduation takes an immense amount of resources, which is why it’s critical for Superintendents and district Treasurers to do their utmost to secure the maximum amount of funding for their districts.

That’s where a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform comes into play. With CheckPoint, district stakeholders can rest easy knowing their enrollment data is complete, organized, and valid at all times, ensuring that their districts receive every last dollar to which they’re entitled. This will be an absolutely essential element of ensuring every student’s success until — and even after — lawmakers settle on a long-term solution to the ongoing debate over what it should take to become a high school graduate in the state of Ohio.