Business Coalition Hesitant about 'Culminating Experience' in Graduation Framework
Business groups are skeptical of a key element in the
State Board of Education's proposed graduation overhaul and want a new system
in place faster.
The board's Graduation Requirements and High School
Redesign Task Force met Monday night to review the graduation proposal ahead of
next week's board meeting. The board is scheduled to vote on it then to meet an
April 1 deadline to send more details about its plan to lawmakers.
The proposal, first endorsed by the board late last year,
would supplement existing graduation pathways with a new option through which
students would demonstrate their knowledge in five areas: English; math;
well-rounded content; technology; and leadership, reasoning and
social-emotional learning. Students could meet the requirement in a given area
through the usual state tests, or by other means such as taking a relevant
College Credit Plus course or completing a demonstration project, for example.
The proposal also includes a "culminating student
experience," in which students would give some sort of presentation that
demonstrates their evidence of knowledge and skills and competency in math,
writing and research. It could take the form of a research project, art
portfolio, community service project or career-technical education program,
among other options.
Lawmakers enacted a transitional graduation plan for the
classes of 2019 and 2020 in 132-HB491 (Edwards), extending and revising a plan
put in place for the class of 2018. The law required the Ohio Department of
Education (ODE) to provide more details on a long-term plan by April 1, and to
consult with business leaders in the process.
Superintendent Paolo DeMaria told the task force he held
meeting on the topic with business organizations including Ohio Business
Roundtable, National Federation of Independent Business, Ohio Chamber of
Commerce, Ohio Manufacturers' Association, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants,
Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Restaurant Association and Ohio Excels.
That latter group is a new coalition, formed last year
and formally launching next week, for business interests to advocate on
preK-through-higher education issues. Its board is chaired by Greater Cleveland
Partnership CEO Joe Roman and includes representatives of L Brands, the
Columbus Partnership, Cincinnati Business Committee, Farmer Family Foundation,
RPM International, Lovett and Ruth Peters Foundation, Ohio Business Roundtable
and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
DeMaria said general sentiments from the business
community in reaction to the proposal included a desire to ensure rigor when
using non-standardized learning demonstrations; a need to parameters for
minimum mathematics and English requirements; a desire to put the long-term
proposal into action starting with the class of 2021; the need to collect
enough data to assess the new system; and words of caution about how the
complexity of the proposal would affect successful implementation.
DeMaria noted the accelerated implementation preferred by
business groups. In contrast, an advisory group DeMaria convened to help
develop the proposal urged implementation with the class of 2023, allowing the
new rules to apply to a class of incoming freshmen. The State Board of
Education recommended implementation in 2022.
Ohio Excels President Lisa Gray, a member of the task
force, said the organization is skeptical of the culminating experience
element, and wants to ensure any new system has adequate early warning
mechanisms to identify struggling students earlier and intervene to assist
Gray said Ohio Excels worries the subjective nature of
the culminating experience will create an avenue to give diplomas to struggling
students who aren't prepared.
"Is the culminating student experience going to
become the de facto measure for kids who have not acquired the knowledge and
skills that we all believe are needed to be successful … Are we disadvantaging
our disadvantaged kids one more time?" Gray said.
She said the organization recognizes the educational
value of a culminating experience. "We think it's great education, we just
don't think that it meets our principles for something that is for graduation
requirements," Gray said.
Regarding early identification of struggling students,
Gray said now – at the outset of a new state budget cycle -- is a good time to
identify and ask for the resources needed to intervene with those students.
Ohio Excels has its own proposal under development, and
it includes alternatives to standardized testing, Gray said. She declined to
share details because the organization's board hasn't formally endorsed
DeMaria noted the department is proposing quality
assurance methods to address concerns about subjectivity and consistency,
including training of educators who would be evaluating or scoring culminating
experience presentations, and data quality review efforts.
Sarah Wilson, a program administrator ODE focused on the
graduation proposal, said guidance the department is developing for capstone
projects and work requirements for the classes of 2019 and 2020, per HB491, can
serve as a stepping stone to the policies ODE will develop to support the
Other task force members pushed back on Gray's concerns
about the culminating experience.
"The culminating experience is important because
that's the catalyst that's going to redefine high school, that's going to bring
experiences back that now are missing," said Shelly Vaughn, superintendent
of the Mercer County ESC. "If we don't place value on those things, they
won't happen in some schools, so it goes back to equity issues."
"What's measured gets done," added William Hampton,
superintendent of Marietta City Schools.
Board members Antoinette Miranda and Meryl Johnson
disagreed with the notion the culminating experience could become a path of
least resistance for unprepared students. Miranda said districts with high
numbers of struggling students would likely look at the amount of work involved
in implementing the culminating experiences and likely decide to put more
effort into improving outcomes on other graduation pathways, as that would be
"It's a lot of work, and it's hard to fake it, it
really is. I think what's happening here is you're not realizing how much work
this kind of stuff takes, and you put in measures all through experience, you
don't just say, 'OK, here's the final project, we're going to measure it,'"
Johnson said the business community could help with the
interventions for at-risk students by providing more mentors. "You keep
them on track by giving them a mentor," Johnson said.
Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), chair of the Senate
Education Committee, called in Monday night to listen to the meeting. She said
Tuesday she's discussed the concept of the culminating experience with Gray for
"What I hope we can do is define [and] put in place
some aspects to that culminating experience that satisfy their concern that
it's rigorous enough. I think we can get there," she said.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on March 5, 2019. Copyright 2019 Hannah News Service, Inc.