By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
When Autumn Traster took her first shot at the five-part Ohio Graduation Test, she was a sophomore and graduation seemed a long way off.
''I don't think I passed any my sophomore year,'' she said. ''I think I just didn't care. I just was taking it as a joke.''
The 18-year-old Kenmore High School senior isn't laughing now. She couldn't walk the stage with her classmates this spring because she still hadn't passed the social studies test.
This week she's among about 300 juniors and seniors registered to take a two-week cram session at Kenmore. If she passes the social studies test on Friday, she could receive her diploma in a traditional ceremony in September.
Traster is among 15 Akron seniors who have earned the required 21 academic credits, but didn't graduate because they had failed at least one part of the OGT.
In 2009, 47 seniors failed to get a diploma because they didn't pass all the tests.
The special classes already are a success, Akron Board of Education members say, because school officials aren't getting the usual desperate calls this year from outraged parents who have discovered that a single flunked state test kept their sons and daughters from walking the stage with their friends.
The Ohio Graduation 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 in order to receive diplomas.
Tests are given twice during the school year in October and again in March.
When the Class of 2011 took the test in March of their sophomore year, 52 percent passed all five tests. At the beginning of their sen
ior year, 76 percent had passed all the tests. By graduation time, 97 percent of the class had the OGT out of the way.
School counselors urge students to take the summer session and pass their remaining tests before they start their senior year.
''When they come to take the October test and they're seniors, they sit there, so nervous 'Oh my God, I'm going to fail' so sometimes they fail. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy,'' said Giovanna Hilj, a school counselor at Ellet High School who coordinates the summer OGT program.
Students take an evaluation test in the summer session to find out where they need extra help. They also learn test-taking strategies.
The summer session students are taking the science test Thursday. That's the only thing standing between Chris Hoskinson and a high school diploma.
''I'm paying attention more. The teachers are better,'' said Hoskinson, 20, who started at Ellet High School and spent this last year at the Akron Alternative Academy.
Gini Rasnick, an assistant principal at Garfield High School who runs the program, said some students do better tackling the tests in the summer ''because they're only concentrating on one subject.''
Desaray Hill, a 19-year-old Kenmore senior, also needs to pass the science test.
''I'm not about to let this one test stop me from getting my diploma,'' she said.
Another Kenmore senior, Dasiza Bell, is focusing this week on the science questions that require an extended written answer.
''I'm going to try to write more and know more,'' she said. She said she didn't take the tests seriously when she was a sophomore.
In addition to the special classes providing help on the test, the district also offers summer classes for students short of credits needed to graduate.
This year, 61 seniors who passed their OGTs didn't have enough credits to graduate. Last year that number was 33.
''We've had students who needed to pass courses and they either quit coming to school or they just did not do the work in the class,'' said Julia Mann, executive director of secondary schools.
Summer school begins next week.
The district tracks students who are behind in credits, and high school principals will be calling students to remind them about summer school so they don't find themselves left out when their classmates cross the stage next year.
Akron held its first September graduation ceremony in 2009, for students who missed their class graduations but passed the OGT in the summer session.
Bell said if she passes the science test this week, she'll go to the September ceremony.
''I was just going to get my diploma mailed to my house,'' she said. ''But I want to actually walk across the stage and get a diploma.
''I'll have my hat on. I want to throw it in the air.''