Ohio Freshmen Begin High School With New Graduation Requirements

Aug 30, 2019

After lawmakers have spent years making tweaks and changes to the high school graduation requirements, the incoming freshman class is beginning its high school journey with what are believed to be permanent standards.

"Good morning everybody."

Amy Obhof greets a classroom full of new freshmen at Licking Heights High School, in central Ohio, before jumping straight into her World History lesson. On this particular day, the students are learning about the Magna Carta.

"So part of what was in the Magna Carta was something that we call the rule of habeas corpus," Obhof explains.

The walls in her classroom are filled with paintings, almost graffiti-like, depicting different historical events, symbols, and figures. Obhof was once an art history major, and she's been using her passion for art to teach social studies for 13 years, such as showing the students a painting of King John signing the Magna Carta.

"So this is just a picture of King John here, and his barons all around him," Obhof describes.

For the past few years, Obhof has noticed a growing stress among students, as state lawmakers have made different changes to the high school graduation standards.

The issue ramped up in 2016 when state data showed that about 65% of high school juniors were not meeting the new requirements needed to graduate. The standards for that class relied heavily on accumulating a certain score on seven different standardized tests.

So lawmakers made another change by approving "alternate pathways" for a few years, but that change was only temporary. 

"I know I've talked to some parents who have multiple students in high school and it's very confusing cause this kid has these graduation requirements and this kid has these other ones and it can be very daunting and very confusing for not only parents but also for students," says Obhof.

But over the summer break, lawmakers included in the state budget what they hope to be one last change, intended to be a long term fix.

The new high school graduation standards for the Class of 2023 and beyond lay out in three components.

First, they have to pass their required high school courses:

  • English/Language Arts
  • Health
  • Math
  • Physical Education
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Electives

Second, they must pass two standardized tests:

  • Algebra I
  • English II

Or, prove competency through three options:

  • Work-based program
  • Military enlistment
  • College coursework

Third, a student must earn two "diploma seals," available seals include:

  • OhioMeansJobs Readiness             
  • Industry-Recognized Credential
  • College-Ready                             
  • Military Enlistment
  • Citizenship                                    
  • Science
  • Honors Diploma                          
  • Biliteracy
  • Technology                                
  • Community Service
  • Fine and Performing Arts             
  • Student Engagement

"It helps me plan out my years," says Carter Russ, a freshman at Licking Heights High School, who's considering music education, theater education, or nursing. He says it's nice to know exactly what's expected of him.

"I think stability in your own plans to graduate I think is very important so that when it comes to your senior year hopefully nothing has changed then you can have everything you need to graduate," Russ says.

Another proponent of the changes is Chad Aldis, vice president of policy and advocacy with the Fordham Institute. The pro-charter school advocate was part of the coalition that recommended this set of graduation requirements to lawmakers. He says it was important create consistency while still raising the bar.

"A high school diploma is important, we all know that, but what a high school diploma prepares you to do is really the most important thing," says Aldis.

Obhof says she's encouraged by the new, long-term requirements.

"There are lots of different options and I think that's a good thing for students. Because everyone, especially when they get to high school, they're thinking about that career path and this sort of lets them explore that a little bit more," Obhof says.

The Ohio Department of Education has been working on spreading awareness about the new high school graduation requirements with a website that lays out the standards for the Class of 2020 - Class of 2023 and beyond.