Youth Catalyze High School Standardized Testing Reform in Ohio

December 6, 2013

As Ohio prepares to change state graduation requirements—a move driven in part by students themselves—an alliance of young people in Cuyahoga County is working to ensure that all students get the preparation they need to succeed.

The Youth Advocacy and Leadership Coalition (YALC) of Cuyahoga County is made up of more than 300 youth ages 13 to 19 who advise county and state leaders on issues affecting young people. They represent about 75 percent of school districts in the county.  For the past several years, YALC members have identified the standardized high school graduation tests as a major concern among their peers.

The Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) is a statewide standardized test consisting of five sections: reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies. Since 2007, students have been required to pass all five areas in order to receive a high school diploma, regardless of their GPA.

In talking with fellow students, they found that preparation for the OGT varied widely among schools.  In most districts, funding and faculty commitment determined the quality of and access to prep courses—which meant districts and communities with less funding were unable to provide things like afterschool study courses, practice tests and study tips for their students.

Finding scant data on prep courses for all schools, YALC members decided to do their own research: they talked with school district and community center staff and scoured the Ohio Department of Education database to collect statistics and facts about the OGT—from how many youth in the county were passing it, how each school handles preparation, as well as any extra supports for minority students and those for whom English is a second language.

With the help of Voices for Ohio’s Children, the youth prepared a presentation, talking points and recommendations for change, and in 2010, they headed to Columbus to present their ideas to Ohio state policymakers. They met with six state legislator offices, using their research and personal experiences to advocate for more equitable graduation requirements and supports.

“That day in Columbus was a very empowering experience for the Coalition,” says Robin Stone, 4-H Youth Development program coordinator at the Ohio State University Extension of Cuyahoga County, which manages YALC “The youth felt they were being heard by the policymakers.”

And they were right. In the months following the meeting, YALC regularly followed up with staff in Columbus about the progress of the issue. Then, in 2011, Ohio state Senator Shirley Smith (D) made a personal visit to the YALC offices to share that the Ohio state legislature—sparked in part by the problems that the YALC brought to light—had begun planning to phase the OGT statewide and replace it with the national standardized ACT, which is already required at most U.S. public and private universities for admission.

The Ohio state legislature is currently overhauling state graduation requirements in all Ohio public schools.

As the new graduation requirements are defined, the YALC continues to follow-up with policymakers on the issue to ensure that the transition doesn’t overlook the need for better and more widespread preparation.

“The experience has taught our youth how to prepare when approaching policymakers” says Stone. “This was the first major policy change the youth have been involved in, and because of this experience, they have become more confident and proactive in addressing other issues.”  

About the Youth Advocacy and Leadership Coalition of Cuyahoga County, OH

The Youth Advocacy and Leadership Coalition (YALC), previously the Cuyahoga County Youth Advisory Committee, advises Cuyahoga County and Ohio state leadership on issues that affect young people. The YALC also facilitates peer training and community service events in schools and community centers.  The YALC has over 700 members ages 13 to 19, with approximately 300 who actively participate in events and trainings throughout the year. It is part of the 4-H positive youth development initiative through Ohio State University Extension, and is funded through support of the Family and Children First Council and the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services Levy. Learn more >>

This snapshot is part of SparkAction's Youth Impact series, short profiles of youth councils and commissions that are influencing local and state policies and practices. SparkAction is producing this series in partnership with the youth-led Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council and with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

To suggest an impact story, please contact Caitlin Johnson, managing editor, at

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