By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Dramatically fewer Akron high school students will miss walking the stage with their fellow students to receive their diplomas this year solely because they failed the Ohio Graduation Test.
This year, 32 seniors will not graduate because they have not yet passed the OGT, even though they have all their required credits; they represent about 2 percent of the graduating class, according to results presented to the Akron School Board on Monday.
The previous two years, the number was around 6 percent.
''These are the gut-wrenching ones,'' Assistant Superintendent Ellen McWilliams said. ''These are the ones that always tear at your heart because they've done everything that they need to do, but they just haven't passed that test.''
In past years, Akron high school students who still hadn't passed the test by their senior year could ask for help. Getting the extra help was the only option at Garfield High School, unless a parent expressly refused help in writing.
Last year, 24 Garfield seniors couldn't walk the stage because of the test. This year, only four will come up short.
Buchtel High School also aggressively targeted seniors who needed help, kicking off the year with a one-on-one session with the principal, Sonya Gordon.
''The first thing we did is the counselors and I met individually with the students and basically had a 'come-to-Jesus' moment,'' Gordon said.
Last year, 16 Buchtel seniors failed to graduate with their
classmates, solely because of the state test.
This year, only two seniors at Buchtel High School will not graduate because of the test same as at Firestone High School.
All seven high schools showed at least some improvement from last year.
The high-stakes test measures knowledge at the 10th-grade level in five areas: reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies.
The graduating class of 2007 was the first required to pass the tests before receiving diplomas.
In 2007, half the 144 Akron seniors who didn't graduate had all of their required credits, but failed one or more of the tests.
Students have seven chances to pass all five tests before their graduation date, beginning with the spring of their sophomore year.
Although the district offers a variety of tutoring sessions and other help, it's been up to the students to ask for it.
Garfield reversed that students had to get the help before or after school, at lunch or during a study hall, unless their parents said they didn't have to.
''They had to give up their time, so, Mondays and Wednesdays, you had to go,'' said Alyse Reeves, an assistant principal at Garfield. ''The only way you can opt out is if your parent signs the letter saying you're opting out. We got no calls and no opting out.''
Garfield also provided practice tests for seniors, with teachers standing by to provide instant feedback.
''When they take the math portion, we have two math teachers right there who grade it, tell them what they did wrong, tell them what they should have done, and point out their mistakes,'' said Garfield Principal H. James Dieringer. ''Same thing when we do science.''
Buchtel got tutoring help through Project GRAD, which recruited tutors from the University of Akron and Kent State University.
''So I would call them and say, 'Hey, I need another one for science, or reading or writing' and they got those tutors,'' Gordon said.
The staff also presented what it called an ''OGT road show'' in the cafeteria, taking questions from the audience about the test during lunch. ''We did questions over a microphone, over the P.A., so all students could hear,'' Gordon said. ''When you heard a question, you could hear the voices drop in the cafeteria and the seniors really came up and took advantage of that.''
McWilliams said all the schools had teams assigned to make sure that seniors passed the tests before graduation. Each high school was allowed to take a different approach.
Garfield's solution came closest to making extra help not just optional, but mandatory.
''It may be the same interventions that were offered before, but now, instead of making it an option that they can come, they just get scheduled in,'' McWilliams said. ''What parent is going to say you don't have to?''