Tougher Diploma Requirements Marching Down the Aisle

Dale Patrick Dempsey
Even as 2006’s high school graduates donned cap and gown this spring, school officials and teachers were wondering how many fewer outfits would be required next year. That’s when would-be members of the 2007 class will be required to pass all five portions of the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT)—reading, math, writing, science and social studies—before receiving a diploma.

If students’ performances in 2006 are any indication, thousands of Ohio’s students will not receive a diploma. Some districts have nearly 100 percent of students passing the exam, which can be taken up to six times over grades 10, 11 and 12, while others have passing rates as low as 26 percent.

 
It’s not that the test is all that demanding. Achieve, Inc., a national, bipartisan organization dedicated to preparing students for college, noted during a 2004 conference in Dayton on the OGT that the math and reading portions of the exam are set at an eighth-grade level when compared to exit exams taken by international competitors’ high school grads. Furthermore, the tests are supposed to be aligned to the state’s standards and an appeals process exists.
 
To be sure, some parents and educators will have a difficult time accepting the consequences for failing the graduation test. In the Trotwood-Madison school district, for example, a year-long research project required by the district for graduation recently drew angry protests from parents of the handful of students who, after multiple opportunities, failed to complete the work. To the district’s credit, administrators stood firm and those students did not graduate.
 
And why should they? In 2005, taxpayers paid $29 million for remedial courses in math and English for more than 40 percent of the state’s college freshmen. Not only are these “catch-up” courses expensive, they don’t count for college credit. Ohioans shouldn’t pay yet again for material students should be learning in high school.
 

Beyond practical reasons, there is the fact that high school graduation is a rite of passage from youth to adulthood. That sheepskin carries emotional weight. As one superintendent put it, “Perhaps there is not another moment in life like the one when you receive your diploma. It is a moment you have worked 12 years to achieve.” How much more meaningful that day will be when the diploma actually signifies students are prepared for the demands of employers and higher education.

For all these reasons, come this time next year state and district officials should hold the line by requiring students to pass all portions of the OGT to receive a high school diploma, and not bow to pressure from parents and hostile educators to grant “appeals.” To be sure, the OGT requirement makes the paper chase harder. But it’s an important step in ensuring a first-class education for every Ohio student. And that’s a legacy that will endure long after the strains of Pomp and Circumstance fade.