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Lisa Gray: Are Ohio students prepared for success after high school?

In just a few months, families across Ohio will gather to celebrate one of life’s most cherished moments: high school graduation. It’s a time of year when students feel 10 feet tall as they walk proudly across the stage to receive their diplomas after 12 years of schooling. They and their families have good reasons for pride. Each diploma symbolizes a student’s hard work to meet Ohio’s challenging academic standards, requirements established by Ohio educators to prepare our young men and women for success in today’s world.

But are these standards — and the ways we measure them — working the way they should? That’s the center of discussions and debates among many Ohioans today about how to measure whether students are prepared to earn their diplomas. Should that preparation be measured by tests? If so, which tests? At what score levels? Are there other ways for students to demonstrate they are ready? Do these options ensure equity of expectations for all students? Are they valid and reliable? Can they be fairly and consistently implemented from district to district, school to school and class to class?

These are all the right questions to be asking, but they are not enough. If we are going to ensure that Ohio students are prepared for life, then we must ask about more than just what’s the best way to measure success. What we really need to be doing is finding ways to help students gain needed knowledge and skills earlier. When we can ensure that students get to their junior or senior years already well prepared, it becomes irrelevant what the measure might be.

Ohio Excels, a nonpartisan coalition of business leaders from across the state, believes the best answer to these questions rests in a comprehensive approach. This includes, adopting a research-based early-warning system to identify students at risk of not graduating. Educators know who most of these students are and have identified them as early as middle school. So schools have the ability to intervene well before high school to let families know their child is not on track and help them develop the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.

We’ve seen how this approach can work. Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee identifies at-risk students, and successfully triggers support systems and early interventions to help these students catch up and get back on a path toward success. Ohio Excels understands that expanding early interventions may take additional resources, especially for Ohio schools and districts that serve higher numbers of students at risk. Making those resources available will be critical to our state’s future and our students’ success.

The concept of early intervention fits well with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s vision and investments in Ohio children, with his laudable goals such as investing in evidence-based home visiting programs, quality early learning opportunities, mental health counseling, wraparound supports, mentoring and after-school programs — all designed to ensure that our students start out on a stronger path to success.

And while it’s essential that we’re giving students the support they need, we can’t forget our teachers. Educators in the classroom should also receive supports and assistance to ensure they are able to effectively implement the interventions to maximize student success.

Ohio Excels, along with many of the state’s leading business organizations and individual employers, are committed to continuing and expanding partnerships with schools and districts to help ensure student success. These efforts include internships, mentoring, other work-based experiences, career days, site visits, partnerships with our career-technical centers, and participation in business advisory councils. We are committed to being a partner in our students’ and families’ success.

The fact is that we cannot continue to postpone our students’ preparedness for the brave exciting, technology-driven world that lies ahead.

As high school graduation season approaches, Ohio policymakers have a difficult, but extremely important issue to solve so we can make certain that Ohio graduates students prepared for success in whatever they choose to do immediately after high school, and can ultimately join Ohio’s workforce. This is a decision that affects all Ohioans — and it’s one that none of us can afford to lose. The statewide business community, through Ohio Excels, is ready to be a part of this conversation in finding a solution.

Gray is the president of Ohio Excels.

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