A new study of Ohio’s school report cards reveals a great disparity in student achievement on the state’s ratings and those published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Although more than 40 percent of fourth graders scored at an accelerated or advanced level in reading and math according to Ohio state standards in 2011, the NAEP rated only 9 percent of Ohio’s students at an advanced reading level and 8 percent as such in math.
More than 50 percent of the state’s eighth graders scored at an accelerated or advanced level in reading, and 33.7 percent in math, according to Ohio’s assessment, but the NAEP score showed just 3 percent of eighth grade students scoring at advanced levels in reading and 8 percent in math.
“States and districts have strong incentives to claim their students are performing at the highest level even when they are not,” said Paul Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “The problems in Ohio are hardly peculiar to that state. The responsibility of the federal government is to make sure the public is well-informed about the quality of its schools. This study shows that strong action is urgently needed.”
Defining Excellence Down
The study, “Grading on a Curve: The Illusion of Excellence in Ohio’s Schools” was conducted by Ann Sheldon and Colleen Grady of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children.
“The districts [marked] excellent are getting a lot more money and saying they shouldn’t have to comply with new operating standards,” Sheldon said. “We didn’t have a clue [in 2009] how bad things were.”
The achievement gap widens on Advanced Placement exams. No students took AP exams in 67 districts Ohio rated excellent or excellent with distinction. More than 100 districts with these ratings had below-average ACT scores.
The study also reported 160 districts with these two rankings graduated fewer than 20 percent of their graduating class with honors and 136 districts rated excellent had college remediation rates above the state average.
Goal Has Been ‘Minimum Competencies’
The ultimate authority on the report card system, the Ohio Department of Education, has kept NAEP scores under the radar.
“The NAEP ratings are pretty much buried in the [Ohio Department of Education] website,” Sheldon said. “The parents do not know, and the public at large does not know, so it seems as though we’re lulled into this false sense of things going all right, and that is not the case at all.”
ODE officials admit Ohio’s students are not doing as well as publicly reported.
“Our system had been designed to meet minimum competencies, and that is what we must change,” said Patrick Gallaway, ODE associate director of Communications. “It is in the best interest of parents and taxpayers that we are providing educational opportunities with the end goal of college- and career-readiness for our students.”
Waiting for Change
Moving Ohio’s assessments online and adapting them to fit Common Core national standards is underway but will not be in place until 2014-2015, Gallaway said.
The Common Core is a federally sponsored set of grade-level standards in language arts and math adopted by 45 states. Analysts have determined them less rigorous than many state standards, such as Massachusetts’, but more rigorous than other states’, such as Ohio’s.
“We are working to address the obvious deficiencies of this system,” Gallaway said. “At this point, we are assessing the capacity of school districts and schools to move forward in the project.”
Gallaway said a major focus is ensuring Ohio students are competitive nationally and globally after graduation. The ODE is working with the Ohio Board of Regents to toughen the remedial college work required of students entering state universities, he said.
Sheldon said she shared the study with policymakers, and they “looked at it in shock but did nothing.”
“I think it will have to come from the general assembly or outside pressure,” Sheldon said. “We’re a little organization. All I can hope to do is to put the issue out there and shine a light on the problem. We’ll need more to resolve this.”
“Grading on a Curve,” Ann Sheldon and Colleen Grady: http://www.oagc.com/files/OAGC_Grading_On_A_Curve_Final.pdf
Image by Alistair Israel.