Columbus -- Students across Ohio will begin a new school year in coming weeks with revamped graduation requirements, increased building security planning, an end to snow days and a continuing shift to letter grades for districts.
The changes were outlined July 31 during an online presentation by state school officials.
One big change for the 2014-15 school year is a shift to required hours of instruction rather than days. Education department spokesman John Charlton said most districts likely exceed the number of hours required for the academic year -- a study noted Ohio schools averaged 1,126 hours of instruction per year, versus the 1,001 required for grades seven and up under the new system.
The hour requirement also means an end to calamity days outlined in state law.
"Obviously, districts will still take off if there's bad weather," Charlton said. "As long as they meet the minimum number of hours, they don't have to worry about scheduling calamity days or having makeup days. They still may have to make up time if they take off a lot of days … and they still may also use blizzard bags …"
Other changes outlined by school officials July 31 included:
• School Safety: Effective in mid-September, most schools will be required to submit emergency management plans, reviewing and testing the contents regularly.
State officials are offering to review the safety plans and train school administrators on related issues; the state also is launching a 24-hour tip line, to be used by students, parents and others to report school safety issues.
"… The key to minimizing threats is to have a good security plan in place while giving local schools the support they need to prepare," said Rick Amweg, who heads the Ohio Department of Education's school safety efforts.
• Kindergarten: School officials will use a new kindergarten readiness assessment to gauge new students' learning and development.
Sophie Hubbell, assessment coordinator for the state, said past assessments measured language and literacy skills. The new assessments will cover additional areas, including social development and mathematics.
A goal is to better understand students' abilities earlier so that lessons and extra intervention can be planned accordingly.
• Testing: Schools will implement new assessment tests for students in grades three through nine to gauge their readiness for college and/or future careers.
"All of our new tests are in two parts," said Larry Early, associate director of curriculum and assessment. "We have a performance-based assessment test and an end-of-course test … Students will be showing their answers and explaining their work in the performance-based assessment. The end-of-course assessment is typical of what we've seen before with multiple choice questions as well as other extended response and selective response questions."
Scores from the two tests, Early said, will be combined for a final score for each course.
• Report Cards: The state will continue its transition to letter-based report cards for schools and districts, with literacy rates added to graduation and other measures already receiving A-F grades.
The new report cards will be released in mid-September.
• Graduation Tests: Incoming high school freshmen will have new graduation requirements, with a series of end-of-course exams replacing the Ohio Graduation Test. Current high school sophomores, juniors and seniors will still take the latter.
Ninth-graders will have to complete required coursework and pass tests in selected subjects, though high enough college admission test scores or industry-recognized credentials could be substituted to demonstrate their readiness for graduation.
"Our colleges and businesses are expecting more from our graduates," said Kevin Duff, senior policy adviser at the Ohio Department of Education. "And our graduation requirements will have to have higher expectations than the OGT to meet their demands. We want to ensure that all students are ready for success in their college and career."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.