The high school class of 2018 (current juniors) will have a new test pathway to graduation.

Low scores on high school tests trigger graduation debate

Tests are harder, but students can retake tests to reach necessary point total

Dramatically fewer Ohio high school students scored “proficient” on new, harder end-of-course exams last spring, spurring debate on whether students will struggle to graduate in the new system that begins with the Class of 2018.

State school board member A.J. Wagner of Dayton expects graduation rates to plummet from 83 percent today to lower than 60 percent in two years. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria disagreed, suggesting that schools will adjust and students will improve on test retakes, raising scores.

“I don’t have the confidence that the kids will do that much better the second time,” Wagner said. “These are end-of-course tests, and by the time they get the scores, they’ve moved on to new courses.”

On the old Ohio Graduation Test, more than 80 percent of sophomores annually scored proficient or better in reading and math. On the new high school test scores released last week, about 54 percent scored proficient or better in English and 48 percent did so in math. Scores were higher in science and social studies, with 65-to-75 percent passing.

But DeMaria emphasized that the new system is not purely pass/fail like the OGT. Given seven tests, a student could score below proficient (a score of 1 or 2) on some tests, and still get the 18 points required for this graduation pathway.

“If our ultimate goal is the right one — to get students to a higher level — why should we be happy that they’ve already reached (graduation level on the OGT) by sophomore year?” DeMaria asked, saying students may need more time to master some concepts.

School responses

Fairmont High School Principal Tyler Alexander said his school is about to send letters to parents explaining the test score system and the first test retake dates scheduled for December.

“Parents are leaning on us for guidance because they’re confused about the new system,” Alexander said. “And we’re still so early in this system that we’re figuring out when is the best time to retest for each individual kid.”

Centerville Assistant Superintendent Bob Yux said the state’s decision to raise the bar means more students will be in jeopardy academically and will have to retake tests. And schools face more complex decisions.

“Retake strategies have to be based on the student’s projection to meet their total points requirement, plus ongoing conversations about what tests students believe they can retake (based on their strengths) to earn additional points,” Yux said.

High school proficiency levels ranged from over 90 percent in Oakwood schools to single digits on three tests in Jefferson Twp. In Dayton, fewer than 30 percent of students scored proficient on high school English and math.

Meadowdale junior Jami Dewberry said one teacher talked briefly about the point system, but school officials have not yet talked about retakes. He called last spring’s tests “kind of hard, but passable,” and said he’s somewhat confident about his path to graduation.

“On math I’m not too sure because it was kind of difficult. On the other parts, yes,” Dewberry said.

Big picture

Fairmont had at least 65 percent of students proficient on each test, and hit 80 percent on four of them. Despite the hurdles of a new system, Alexander doesn’t expect a big decrease in graduation rates.

Dayton school board President Adil Baguirov also took a positive tone.

“I am confident that we will go up in terms of graduation,” he said. “Just like we surprised everybody this year (on the state report card), we will surprise everyone again.”

Wagner acknowledged that districts will try hard to bring kids’ scores up, but he worries about their ability to do it.

“Schools will have the desire to remediate, but these test results don’t give them the information and resources they need to do it smartly,” he said.

DeMaria said each student’s school is the best resource for those with questions, adding that school and state officials “have an obligation to make sure people are paying attention.”

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