Safe Harbor Guidance

What is Safe Harbor?

The General Assembly directed the Ohio Department of Education to transition to new state tests in mathematics and English language arts for the 2014-2015 school year. To give schools, teachers and students time to adjust, new Ohio law suspends many of the consequences of the tests for the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Safe Harbor for School Districts

School officials might find it helpful to communicate with parents about safe harbor as meaning “no impact.” School districts can become eligible for certain programs or interventions based on their report card performance. Safe harbor – or no impact – for school districts means the following programs or interventions will be suspended:

Challenged School District Designation

When the state designates a school district as “challenged,” new startup community schools can open within the district’s boundaries. Safe harbor means the state will designate no new school districts as challenged until it releases the 2018 report cards.

Educational Choice Scholarship Program

Students attending persistently poor performing schools can become eligible for vouchers to pay the costs of attending private schools. Safe harbor means Ohio will include no new public school buildings in the program until the 2019-2020 school year.

Academic Distress Commissions

Ohio forms these commissions to help improve a school district after three consecutive years of poor results on its report cards. The 2016 report cards and report cards thereafter count toward the three consecutive years for the formation of new academic distress commissions, and safe harbor does not apply to the existing academic distress commissions.

Community School Closure

The majority of community schools receive the same traditional report cards as other public schools. Community schools can be closed by law for continued poor performance. That said, Ohio’s current safe harbor provisions say the state will not use grades published on the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 report cards to judge whether it will close a school. 

School Restructuring

When traditional public schools receive low report card grades, there are several laws that require them to restructure or even close. Safe harbor means that no new school buildings will be required to restructure because of state law based on the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 report cards. However, there are restructuring requirements included in federal law that are not covered by Ohio’s safe harbor provisions. This state portion of restructuring affects only a few schools.

Safe Harbor for Students

Schools and districts may not use test results during the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years to grant credits to students or to promote or deny students’ promotion to higher grade levels, except in the cases of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and graduation requirements. Test vendors can release a student’s test score reports only to the school district, the student and the student’s parent or guardian.

Schools must still retain in third grade a child who does not meet the “promotion score” on Ohio’s grade three English language arts test. Some students may be exempted from this requirement. Exemption information is on the department’s website at, search Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

The graduating classes of 2018 and after are taking end-of-course tests to earn graduation points. A student’s performance on these tests will impact a student’s graduation. However, safe harbor allows any student to retake any end-of-course tests. Students also have other options to earn high school diplomas.

Last Modified: 9/13/2017 4:13:29 PM