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High School Students Prepare for New School Year; New Graduation Requirements

a photo of a classroom
Amy Obhof teaching her World History class at Licking Heights High School

Kids are back in class all over Ohio, and this year’s incoming freshman class has a new set of standards they’ll have to meet to graduate in four years. What are the new requirements and how will they test the kids who will need to achieve them?

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.

The walls in Obhof's room are filled with paintings, almost graffiti-like, depicting different historical events, symbols, and figures. Once an art history major, Obhof has been using her passion for art to teach social studies for 13 years.

For the past few years, Obhof has noticed a growing stress among students, as state lawmakers have been changing and making tweaks 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. And Obhof said that worried families.

"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."

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, such as English, Math, and Social Studies.

Second, they must pass a standardized test in Algebra and English. There are other options to prove competency such as a work-based program, enlisting in the military, or completing college coursework.

And finally, a student must earn two so-called "diploma seals." These are programs that demonstrate readiness in certain skills.

"It helps me plan out my years."

That's Carter Russ, he's among the 360 freshmen at Licking Heights High School. Russ, who's considering music education, theater education, or nursing, said 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."

Another proponent of the changes is Chad Aldis with the Fordham Institute, an education policy group. That pro-charter school advocate was part of the coalition that recommended this set of graduation requirements to lawmakers. He said 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."

Obhof said 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."

The Ohio Department of Education has been working on spreading awareness about the new high school graduation requirements with a new website that details the standards.