Senate: Ohio high schoolers likely to get flexibility on graduation rules

Current high school students are likely to get some relief from Ohio’s normal graduation rules because of COVID-19 school impacts, but the process is going a little bumpier than expected.

Substitute House Bill 67 was approved by the full Ohio House of Representatives on Thursday and heads to the Ohio Senate next. For state-tested subjects, the bill would allow current high school seniors to use their classroom grade instead of a state test score from this spring to meet graduation requirements.

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According to the Legislative Service Commission, the bill also permits schools to grant a diploma in 2021 to any student who had been on track to graduate before schools were interrupted, if the principal “determines that the student has successfully completed the high school curriculum” or their special education program. That’s the same flexibility that was given to the Class of 2020.

The problem is, when the Ohio House approved the bill, they voted not to include an emergency clause. That means the bill wouldn’t take effect until 90 days after the Governor signed it — late June at the earliest, which is weeks after most high school graduations.

Credit: Springfield News-Sun

Credit: Springfield News-Sun

However, state Sen. Andrew Brenner, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that the Senate intends to take up the bill next week and pass a version that would “hold harmless” the current seniors.

“If you’re a senior, we’re going to do the same exceptions that were put in last year’s bill, so the plan will be to move it quickly,” Brenner said. “We’re going to put an emergency clause on it. I’m not really sure what happened in the House. … I’m not sure they even know what happened, but yes, it has to have an emergency clause for this to work.”

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Timing will be an issue. Will Schwartz, deputy director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, confirmed the bill also includes language that would waive this spring’s state American History exam for high schoolers, and extend the windows for giving most state tests further into May.

But schools need to make plans now, as the state testing windows open March 22 for English and March 29 for all other subjects.

Brenner said the bill won’t technically get referred to committee until Wednesday, but the Senate education committee plans an informal hearing with testimony on the bill Tuesday.

“The plan will probably be to have all testimony, possible amendments and possible vote (done) the following week,” Brenner said.

Brenner said the Senate needs to take a close look at language in the bill that would also allow current high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors to use classroom grades instead of state test scores toward graduation. Brenner said as long as the language is limited to tests taken in spring 2021, “we may be able to do that.”

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Some state legislators had been pushing for cancellation of all K-12 state tests this spring. The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that tests would go on, although states could seek waivers for any consequences tied to bad scores on those tests. House Bill 67 does direct Ohio to seek such a waiver.

The bill also moves the deadline for releasing the state report card from Sept. 15 to Oct. 14.

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