After rounds of philosophical debate pitting high expectations against dropout worries, the state school board voted Tuesday to soften the scoring system for two state exams from spring 2016 — but not as far as some board members wanted.
Ohio students bombed the geometry and integrated math II tests, with fewer than 1 in 4 students scoring “proficient” under the original scoring system.
The state board, by an 11-5 vote, changed the grading scale so that students needed to score only a 35-to-39 percent on those exams to be proficient under state law.
That means an estimated 50 percent of students will pass the geometry test (in line with other state tests), and 35 percent will pass the much-less-used integrated math II test.
“We’re lowering the cut score on two exams to bring them into alignment (with 20 others),” state board President Tom Gunlock said. “I don’t want to give a false impression that we’re lowering expectations for students.”
Gunlock said the state’s Common Core-tied state tests actually make it harder on students than in past years, but the state offset that by offering students the ability to retake tests repeatedly, and offered two other graduation pathways that don’t rely on these tests.
But the scores on the tests are important because they are still part of the primary graduation system for the class of 2018 and beyond. There are seven high school tests, and students get from 1 to 5 points on each based on their performance, needing a total of 18 points for graduation.
State testing director Jim Wright emphasized that students could do poorly on one test and make it up with a higher score on another on their way to 18 overall points.
State board member A.J. Wagner of Dayton argued that the scoring system should be softened far more because too many students were at risk. Even with Tuesday’s adjustments, students scored no higher than 58 percent proficiency (proficient is worth 3 points) on any of the high school English or math exams.
“On five of those tests, 40 percent of the kids are only going to get 1 or 2 (graduation points),” Wagner said. “On average, we’re going to lose 40 percent of our kids. We end up with 40 percent of our kids not graduating.”
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Wagner’s worry was similar to the way she felt a few years ago when the third-grade reading guarantee was proposed.
“Based on where we were, 50 percent of our kids were going to be held back (in third grade),” said Lehner, R-Kettering. “I said there’s no way, we gotta stop and think. … We can’t do this. Well, you know what the third-grade promotion rate is now? 94 percent.
“What we’ve seen across this state is schools rising to the occasion, changing their policies, putting in interventions,” Lehner continued. “We will change, we will improve. … Two or three years from now, we will be looking back and saying the passage rate was just as good as it was with the OGT.”
Gunlock invited Learn to Earn Dayton Executive Director Tom Lasley to address the state board on the issue of higher standards Tuesday. Lasley said his organization regularly talks to employers who are frustrated that current high school graduates don’t have the job skills companies need. He said Ohio’s future depends on having a competitive workforce so the best companies don’t leave for other states.
“To get and keep good jobs, our children need world-class educations,” Lasley wrote in testimony to the board. “Lowering the bar when our competitors in this country and around the globe are increasing expectations would tremendously disadvantage our young people. We have to be honest with ourselves and with students about what’s required to compete and succeed in a knowledge economy.”
Wagner said pushing kids harder and harder works for some, but not for many disadvantaged students who have fewer resources.
“About 10 percent will respond to those kind of incentives, but 90 percent won’t,” Wagner argued. “And what do we do when 40 percent of them say I give up, I can’t make it, I can’t try, I can’t do this. That’s human nature. … When you run a football program and (kids don’t try harder), they get cut. We can’t cut kids here. We have to keep working with them.”
Mad River Schools Superintendent Chad Wyen testified with Lasley, and said his district has seen graduation rates rise even as poverty levels have increased.
“There’s no substance to the argument that higher expectations depress graduation rates,” Wyen said. “Anytime you transition to a new set of standards, there’s always that drop in test scores. Once our teachers and students immerse themselves in the standards, then you see the results, and often we exceed the bar we set.”
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