For several years now, Ohio Local Report Cards have reflected progress (or sometimes lack thereof) on high school Prepared for Success indicators. The challenges schools face in raising their Prepared for Success performance are amplified when it comes to Ohio’s new-but-not-fully implemented graduation standards: Not enough students have access to graduation pathways in which they can demonstrate career readiness, nor the support to succeed in them. As the EEP team travels the state, we are discovering a wide variety of readiness, understanding and implementation. We have seen everything from the Ostrich Approach to strategic, collaborative and comprehensive plans for re-envisioning high school.
Strategy 1: Ostrich Approach. Some schools may opt for the Ostrich Approach because almost all of their seniors complete the ‘traditional’ path that includes success on state end of course exams or because they are counting on lawmakers to permanently relax graduation requirements. Although this approach may earn most of their students a diploma, it exacerbates significant equity issues when youth who have greater risk factors do not graduate – or graduate without the skills they need to be successful after high school. Staying the course will also not positively impact the school’s Prepared for Success report card component. The reason is that oftentimes, those who earn an honors diploma are the same students who meet ACT or SAT benchmarks and they only count once. These schools also usually have many students taking AP and College Credit Plus coursework, but those indicators are ‘bonus’ points, not primary measures. Without a concentrated effort to ensure each student meets graduation requirements AND is well prepared for post-secondary education, training and work, Ostrich schools may soon see lower graduation rates and continue to see abysmal Prepared for Success rates. Worse, they will continue to shortchange the students who need the most support.
Strategy 2: Outsource Approach. Some schools see this as the career tech center’s problem. The majority of school leaders agree that students need alternative options for graduation. While they may not love the available choices, having options to help students earn their diploma is definitely positive. The only real option for students who are unlikely to meet the traditional path (18 points on state tests) is earning industry recognized credentials and passing the WorkKeys assessment. However, a significant number of currently approved credentials require specialized instruction, testing and equipment which can seem cost prohibitive. Using the outsource approach, schools simply plan to send ‘those kids’ to a career technical education center. While this may be a great solution for some students, it doesn’t take into account student needs, costs and capacity. Many students thrive in their high school and don’t want to leave. When kids go to career centers, so does the ADM funding. Typically, the costs-benefit of sending students to career center is balanced, but if this is the ‘go to’ for industry credentials, then it could offset the balance which could result in additional financial stress for the district. Finally, many career centers do not have facility space or access to staffing needed to significantly expand enrollment.
Strategy 3: Tinkering with Innovation Approach. Incubated by Straight A Grant Funds (Round 1), 19 central Ohio districts began introducing college/career pathway opportunities aligned to regionally in-demand career fields. Canal Winchester, one of our long standing district partners, was a member of this consortium and began their transformation four years ago with just one pathway. We supported the district through its own Straight A grant effort (Round 4) and this year the high school is offering six pathways, including a very unique Risk Management/Insurance pathway in partnership with Ohio Dominican University and Motorists Insurance which will prepare students for many entry level positions in that field. The more the district tinkered, the more leaders realized that tinkering will only get them so far. They greatly increased access to College Credit Plus, but are still struggling with industry credentials, which resulted in a D on this year’s Prepared for Success indicator. (See Strategy 5). Three years ago, Mahoning County ESC (MCESC) began offering deeper supports to their districts to increase access to industry credentials. Through the MCESC’s Straight A Grant (Round 4), we assisted them creating opportunities for principals, teachers and counselors to take the WorkKeys assessments and several online credentialing exams. This built empathy for the student experience. MCESC Instructional Supervisor Sam Caputo provided many resources to comprehensive high schools find creative ways to embed industry credentials within their current course offerings. His 2017 guest blog shares these ideas and gives examples of implementation in Mahoning Valley high schools. While this support has been helpful, the tinkering we have seen is just not paying off significantly.
Strategy 4: Targeted Supports for Seniors At-Risk. At the beginning of the school year, about 60% of Marion City Schools’ senior class were not on track to earn a diploma through the traditional graduation path or an industry credential through the career center. While the plan is to re-envision high school (see Strategy 5), EnvisionEdPlus and HS staff started by revising systems to ensure each current senior has a graduation pathway to success. In October, each at-risk senior took the WorkKeys assessments and then started intervention if they were not successful on the first administration. Our team conducted an industry credential deep dive to identify which ones were a) aligned to current HS pathways; b) can be taught in a comprehensive HS setting; and c) can be completed in less than four months. We created a two year credential roll out plan for credential courses. By January, all at-risk seniors will be enrolled in credentials that fit within current HS pathways and are either online or can be completed in one day (such as First Aid/CPR) and that have exams which are free or relatively inexpensive. Many students have already started and could complete their credentials before the beginning of second semester. To ensure students have adequate supports, we created coaching/mentoring systems. Each senior has a Gear Up Coach, principal and school counselor overseeing their credential work, assisting with interventions and communicating progress. HS staff ‘adopted’ seniors and are informally mentoring and cheering them on, so each student feels connected, supported and valued. Some minor incentives were offered to encourage students to complete credentials quickly. While the legislature just passed a ‘stop gap’ solution that would make earning a diploma easier this year, Marion plans to continue this approach because as Dr. Ron Iarussi, Marion City Schools Superintendent told us “helping our seniors earn industry credentials so they are better prepared for life beyond high school is simply the right thing to do. With this new approach, 92% of our seniors are now on a path to earn and diploma plus industry credentials. ”
Strategy 5: Re-envisioning High School (and all school). Districts like Canal Winchester and Marion City Schools have discovered that they have exhausted the benefits of ‘tinkering’ and targeted supports. To significantly change outcomes for students and ensure that EACH student graduates prepared for success, they must completely re-envision the high school experience, for adults and students. We are honored to facilitate this journey in both communities. It looks different in each district because needs are not the same, but we are using the EnvisionEdPlus Framework for Re-envisioning Education, in both locations and ensuring alignment to the Cross State High School Redesign Collaborative (CSHSC) which will be rolled out in Ohio starting in January. This fall, we kicked off the work in Canal Winchester with focus groups, surveys and information sessions to inform the design of a Portrait of a Graduate. Once we receive feedback from students, families, K-12 faculty, business and community partners, a core team will draft the Portrait of a Graduate and offer additional opportunities for refinement. Similar work will begin in Marion in January now that we have our seniors on the pathway to success. Through this endeavor we will engage faculty and partners in assessing the systems, supports, expectations, policies and practices required to truly position each high school to deliver on the Portrait of a Graduate. Shortly thereafter, we will be working to ensure all schools across the PK-8 continuum are also aligned.
OK – so how do they fund these shifts? Schools that are in improvement status (priority, focus, warning) can apply for School Quality Improvement or Expanding Opportunities for Each Child grants (see EEP Winter Grant Watch for details). Canal Winchester is not eligible for these grants, but the district leadership re-allocated local funds to make it happen and they regularly apply for innovation grants to support their efforts.
What if we think this might be a good idea, but are not sure where to start? In January, ODE will be rolling out additional details on the upcoming High School Redesign Collaborative mentioned above. There will be several ways to participate and levels of involvement based on school readiness. To ensure you are on the list for information or to ask questions, contact Buddy Harris (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you need more information on strategies 3-5, give us a shout. We would love to help. If you are sticking with the Ostrich Approach, well, good luck!
~Michele Timmons, EnvisionEdPlus President
(email@example.com / 614.893.7341)