COLUMBUS — Last month, the Ohio General Assembly passed a new biennial budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The budget is far more than a massive spreadsheet—it outlined multiple changes that will impact K-12 education. Examples include raising the base salary for teachers to $30,000 per year, creating a school safety tip line, designating funding for developing drug prevention curriculum and establishing a new set of requirements for high school graduation.
State Representative Rick Carfagna said that the budget’s approach to education was one of modernization.
“From updating the minimum salary for teachers, to enacting graduation requirements that better reflect students’ true promise, to reducing our over reliance on testing by scaling back end-of-course examinations, and even by embracing computer coding as a foreign language, I think we’re making a number of calibrations that will both stimulate learning and better position our kids for the 21st Century workforce,” wrote Carfagna in an email.
This year’s incoming freshman will be the first class to be subject to the new graduation requirements; there will be an optional path to graduation for the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. After numerous legislative changes over the past few years, educators are hoping that this set of requirements will stick.
“This will be my fourth year as a school counselor and this is the second major overhaul of the graduation requirements in that time,” said Stephanie Whitesel, guidance counselor at East Knox High School. “We’ve also seen two sets of additional options added, first for the Class of 2018 and then again for the Classes of 2019 and 2020. Frequent changes make it more challenging to share requirements with parents and students because there are several sets of requirements, each with multiple components and some that have had additional options added or alternative options.”
Former standards offered three pathways to graduation, all of which involved achieving a minimum score on either state tests or a college entrance exam. The new system can be boiled down to three elements: meeting curriculum requirements, achieving a competency score on two end-of-course state exams and earning two diploma seals.
Scott Will, the principal of Mount Vernon High School, said he appreciated that the new standards give students the option to focus on disciplines that interest them.
“I really feel that this is going to open up some clear avenues for students and really take some of the pressure off of the testing,” said Will. “Such an emphasis has been put on testing and we’re getting back into career development, being a little more specialized with the options kids have and the flexibility that gives them.”
The curriculum requirements will stay the same as in previous years. Students will need four English language arts credits, four math credits, three science credits, three social studies credits, five elective credits, half a credit in physical education and half a credit in health. Elective courses can include additional credits in the subjects listed above or credits in foreign language, fine arts, business, career-technical education, family and consumer sciences, technology or agricultural classes. Students also have to receive instruction in economics and financial literacy and complete at least two semesters of fine arts; any other requirements are at the discretion of individual school districts.
While curriculum requirements won’t change, there are a few updates to how students can meet them. Computer coding will now count as a foreign language credit in schools that require a foreign language credit to graduate. Two full seasons of show choir will now fulfill the physical education requirement.
Students will still be required to pass the Algebra I and English Language Arts II exams. There are alternatives available for students who fail the exam after a second attempt. These alternatives include certain career-based credentials, military enlistment or college credit in math or English.
The third graduation requirement is acquiring two diploma seals. Criteria for most of the seals will be determined by the state, but schools are still waiting for the details. State seals include the OhioMeansJobs readiness seal, industry-recognized credential seal, college-ready seal, military enlistment seal, citizenship seal, science seal, honors diploma seal, seal of biliteracy and technology seal.
Criteria for the other three seals—the community service seal, fine and performing arts seal and student engagement seal—will be determined by individual school districts.
“Although we do not have all of the details for the new plan yet, I am pleased that the new requirements provide more flexibility with less reliance on test scores,” said Whitesel. “The new requirements provide students with more opportunities to demonstrate they have the necessary skills and knowledge needed to be successful after high school, whether they plan to enter the military, continue their education or join the workforce.”