The Plain Dealer
By Patrick O’Donnell
Feb 22, 2020
CLEVELAND, Ohio – High school students won’t have to be “proficient” in either math or English to graduate, under minimum required test scores proposed by State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.
They will just need to know enough to do the most basic of jobs.
New high school graduation requirements passed this summer require most students to show “competency” in math and English through scores on Ohio’s Algebra I and English II tests to qualify for a diploma. The new requirements start with the class 2023, this year’s high school freshmen.
The legislature left it to DeMaria and the Ohio Department of Education to set minimum scores on those tests by March 1, in consultation with the state Department of Higher Education and Office of Workforce Development.
With that deadline approaching, DeMaria told the state school board this month he plans to require scores of 684 on both exams, scores that are above the state’s “Basic” level of minimal skills, but short of its higher “Proficient” bar.
DeMaria plans to officially set those scores after another round of discussions with the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Transformation.
DeMaria said the “competency” scores are not meant to show readiness for college, or even a career, only that a graduate knows enough to do the basics of an entry-level job.
“The competencies that we’re describing are meant to be about that high school-only job position,” he said. Graduates can then learn more on their own.
How those scores might affect graduation rates is unclear. About 82% of the high school class of 2019 earned 684 or above in Algebra when they took the test, and 85% met that score in English.
There are other paths to a diploma for students who can’t earn those scores, including earning college credit in English and math while in high school, taking steps toward career credentials or enlisting in the military.
Lisa Gray of Ohio Excels, a partnership between chambers of commerce and suburban districts, isn’t sure DeMaria is setting the bar high enough. Her group proposed the new graduation requirements the legislature adopted. She said students need to know enough to adapt in a constantly-changing workforce.
Others, like State Rep. Don Jones, chairman of the House Education Committee, said college-level scores are not needed since not every student goes to college.
“It needs to be realistic,” said Jones, a Freeport Republican.
In addition to proving “competency” on the Algebra I and English II end-of-course exams, students from the class of 2023 onward must show advanced skills in other areas of their own choice.
DeMaria said the legislature did not define competency, so he created a list of jobs that require just a high school diploma and looked at help wanted ads to see what skills employers want.
He said he also found supervisors of a few jobs that require just a high school diploma and asked which specific math skills employees need at work. Those included ratios, proportions and percentages; scale drawing and conversions; reasoning and problem-solving.
He also asked for examples of what those employees would have to read and understand for work and was told they would need to read informational text – instructions or forms – more than literature. They also needed good grammar and should clearly communicate, but understanding descriptions matters more than analysis.
He then used that feedback to establish the required minimum scores. He cautioned, however, that test scores don’t really tell which particular skills students have mastered, only their overall knowledge in a subject.
Board member Sarah Fowler, of Rock Creek, said she was bothered that scores can’t tell employers that students have specific skills and that the state is just approximating competency.
“If we don’t have a definition beyond this particular word, what does it actually mean to employers?” she asked.
Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute, which developed the graduation plan with Ohio Excels said there is no “magic number.” He agreed with DeMaria’s process of asking employers to help set the scores.
“There needs to be some respect given to that,” Aldis said. “Over time, we’ll see if our students end up not being prepared.”