AKRON, OH (WOIO) - Akron Public Schools are seeing a big difference in graduation rates.
They say that's partly due to a change the legislature made in graduation requirements this year.
At the beginning of the school year, 54 percent of seniors were on track to graduate.
As of May, with just weeks to go, that number is close to 93 percent.
The state recently changed rules that required students to acquire a certain number of points over seven different exit exams. That was in addition to 21 credits they had to take through high school.
However, many students struggled to make those standards, particularly the 18-point minimum requirement on the end-of-course exams. Now, students have a few more options if they want to graduate on time. They must fulfill two out of nine options.
- Attendance rate of 93 percent during senior year.
- GPA of 2.5 or higher senior year.
- Capstone project completed senior year.
- 120 community service hours.
- Three or more College Credit Plus credits.
- AP Coursework that counts toward college credit.
- Score 3 or higher on WorkKeys assessment.
- Industry-recognized credential.
- Finish OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal.
James Watters is one of the students for whom this change makes a big difference. He's a senior at Kenmore Garfield High School in Akron. Watters says he never enjoyed traditional school settings.
"My freshman year, I kinda didn't like school, so I didn't come," he said.
This year, he worried he would not be able to rack up enough points on the exit exams to graduate. That was until his school counselor told him about the new requirements, and helped him get back on track. He started studying machinist courses, which motivated him to do what he needed to do.
"Senior year hits, I just start doing more work, writing more notes, studying more," said Watters.
That worked for Watters. Not only did he pass required tests to pursue a career as a machinist after high school, he knows he will graduate in June.
Principal Frank Kalain says Watters is one of many success stories he's seen since the requirements changed. He believes the new standards will not only encourage more students to stay in school and boost graduation rates, they'll also help kids identify what careers they want to pursue.
"This allows kids to see if they like something, and if they do, they can pursue it, and if not, they can pursue something different, rather than spending the big money maybe on a college diploma," said Kalain.
Every year, the Ohio Department of Education issues a report card, which ranks schools on multiple criteria, including graduation rates. You can find that here.