State board likely to soften test scores

In this first year of new state tests from the American Institutes for Research, Ohio students this spring performed dramatically worse than expected on the geometry and integrated math II exams. For students in the class of 2018 and younger, those tests are part of a new seven-test graduation pathway.

The state board’s achievement committee on Monday approved changing the cut scores, and the full state board will take a deciding vote on the matter Tuesday.

Originally, students needed to get roughly 50 percent of questions right to be proficient on the geometry and math II exams. Only 24 percent and 21 percent of students, respectively, met those benchmarks.

The change being voted on this week means students needed roughly 37 percent of questions right to be judged proficient, with 52 percent and 35 percent of students, respectively, meeting the new, softer standard.

“We said we would take a look at the data once we had real Ohio test data to compare,” said Ohio Department of Education testing director Jim Wright. “Two tests stood out as outliers. The rest were close (to expectations).”

Those new expectations are lower to begin with, based on the tougher Common Core standards. While 75 to 80 percent of Ohio students achieved proficiency on the state’s old OAA and OGT tests, the state expected about 60 percent of students to be proficient on the AIR tests.

On 13 of the 18 English and math tests, students were in that ballpark — between 51 and 68 percent proficiency, according to preliminary, statewide results. Scores for individual districts are not yet available even to ODE.

State school board member A.J. Wagner of Dayton argues that those proficiency levels are too low, and will mean a big drop in graduation rates. State board President Tom Gunlock of Centerville said the graduation score system allows high school students to score low on some of the seven exams and still graduate if they offset them with higher scores on other exams. He also pointed out Ohio’s two other paths to graduation offer options.

“We could just give a diploma to everybody if that’s what this board wants to do, and just let the employers sort it out,” Gunlock said. “But we’d be doing a disservice to those kids and to society.”

Wright acknowledged that even after the adjustment, the math II passing rate will be much lower than the other tests. He said roughly 10 times more students took the geometry exam than math II, and the state is examining who the test-taking population included, to look for any anomalies.

Wright pointed out that students can retake state exams throughout their high school careers in an effort to improve their scores and earn more points for graduation.

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