Members of the State Board of Education (ODE) Graduation Requirements and High School Redesign Task Force discussed where to set a new statutorily mandated “competency score” on state tests required for graduation at a Nov. 25 meeting, with members seeking to strike a balance between academic rigor and concerns surrounding student passage rates.
Following up on the group’s October meeting, Superintendent Paolo DeMaria informed members that the Legislature mandated in the biennial budget, HB166 (Oelslager), that Ohio students must “demonstrate competency” on the state English II and Algebra I exams to qualify for a high school diploma. (See The Hannah Report, 11/26/19.)
However, the current grading scale for state tests specifies five performance levels: limited, basic, proficient, accelerated and advanced. DeMaria said discussion has been focused on setting the “competent” level somewhere between the current “basic” and “proficient” thresholds, though he added that further discussion must take place within the task force and with external stakeholders in order to determine exactly where the score should be.
DeMaria said considerations in setting the score should include the urgency with which the score must be set; the current student performance percentages on state tests; the fact that there is “no bright line” on where students' understanding of a topic translates to a given score; and the fact that students must earn competency scores on both tests.
Discussion focused largely on the final point, with task force member Michelle Grimm, representing the Ohio School Counselor Association, encouraging members to take into consideration the “middle-of-the-road” kids and to remember ODE’s approach of educating the “whole child.”
Member Julie Holderbaum, representing Minerva High School, presented competing concerns of the “troubling” idea of a student demonstrating competency through a minimal command of the material, versus the relatively low number of students currently meeting the “proficient” threshold on required state tests.
“I don’t think it should be proficient, because just look at the numbers,” Holderbaum said. “What skills do they really need? Employers want someone who will show up on time, learn and follow directions.”
DeMaria commented, “I struggled with that as well, and the way I resolved it in my mind was, this is Algebra I, and really, much of the everyday math we use is pre-algebra. At the level of ‘basic,’ you need to have strong mastery of some algebra skills. When you get into ‘proficient,’ there’s quite a bit of discussion about quadratic equations. … I’ve had discussions with business people saying they never use the quadratic equation.”
He continued, “Think about what job an employer would use someone with a high school diploma for that isn’t a task-oriented job.”
The superintendent encouraged members to send further thoughts on the subject via email.
In a later discussion, committee members discussed the “guiding principles and themes” for redesigning the high school experience in the state, the results of which will be published in a report with recommendations.
At the group’s previous meeting, members decided that phase one of the redesign would consist of gathering information through identifying promising practices already in place across the state, reviewing national research and conducting stakeholder focus groups.
State Board of Education member Steve Dackin recommended that the task force establish some criteria for what constitutes “promising practices” across the state, either through student outcome data or design criteria, and he also suggested that task force members recognize that most high school students no longer go through a “standard” high school experience. Many high schoolers are taking college classes, starting high school early, or attending school at nontraditional times due to work, he said.
Task force member Will Hampton, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, agreed, saying that 63 percent of his students leave the high school building at some point during the day.
Heather Powell, representing Williamsburg High School, said that members should think of high school like a meal for students, to whom districts should provide an “a la carte menu.” Members supported the idea of allowing greater student choice.
“Some kids are going to have a fabulous five-star meal, and some kids are going to have a wholesome lunch from the high school cafeteria, and that's just alright,” she said.
Michael King, representing Berkshire High School, said his district underwent serious changes following a conversation among district leadership who decided “1955 has to go.” He said the district moved away from desks in rows and dusty technology, and transitioned to project-based learning and standards-based grading in grades K-12 that allowed students greater agency in determining their learning pathways. The district leadership’s shift in attitude paved the way for the passage of a levy, with the new programs becoming the centerpiece of the levy campaign.
“Because we made it about their students and their future and we invited parents to come see it, the levy passed two-to-one. No kid has their chemistry exam on their refrigerator, but our kids are doing projects in school and out in the community that are going to stand the test of time,” King said. “The biggest question is to ask students, ‘What do you want to do?’ And we figure out the rest. It’s not right to force kids through four years of lecturing.”
Greg Nickoli, of Pioneer Career & Technology Center in Richland County, said that students should learn more about what careers are available. He noted that in a recent junior class of medical technology students, 23 of 25 wanted to be nurses. But after those students were provided real-world experience of other careers in medical technology, they had more varied career choices in their senior year.
“Lots of kids want to be nurses, but they can also be occupational therapists, physical therapists, radiologists, all the stuff you don’t see on TV or that mom or dad doesn’t do,” he said.