Sunday, November 13, 2016

OH: One Third Won't Graduate

Back in the summer of 2014, the Ohio legislature approved a New! Improved! plan for measuring student achievement. Two years later, it's not looking so good.

The plan was to expand over and above the old Ohio Graduation Test, which would be replaced with seven other tests.

Four of the new exams will be based on the new multi-state Common Core standards that Ohio is starting to use in all schools. All are in the final stages of development – many just finished having trials across the state or nation this spring – and the scores that students need to pass are not set yet.

Here's how the whole thing shook out per the Department of Education:

And then there was this ominous quote:

While the exact scores that students need on the tests have not been set, [Damon] Asbury, [director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association] said that's a "technical issue" that can be worked out later, now that the structure of requirements is set. 

Technical issue, indeed. Setting cut scores is always THE issue in figuring test scores. 

Ohio was going to depend on the PARCC to fill in a couple of those testing spots, but then the students of Ohio actually took the PARCC, and nobody was happy about how that worked out-- so in 2015 the state of Ohio became yet another state to bail out of PARCC's sinking malformed ship. Since they had already hired American Institutes of Research, a rival test manufacturer, to provide other tests, AIR seemed like a logical step.

Through this year (2017), Ohio students were just following the old game plan (with some new options). But the Class of 2018, in a modified version of the 2014 plan, must get their credits and then either earn the required number of points on the exit exams OR earn an industry-recognized credential OR earn a remediation-free score on the SAT or ACT. Students can earn up to five points per exit exam.

Now Ohio superintendents are warning of a graduation apocalypse. Students are coming up way short on the scores needed on the new standardized tests.

Olmstead Falls Superintendent Jim Lloyd expects the new requirements to cut his graduation rate from 95% to 65%, and that those scary numbers will be the norm across the state. He is leading "a rally at the statehouse Tuesday morning of an estimated 200 superintendents, plus school board members from across Ohio, to call attention to this danger. They also plan to ask the state school board and legislature to seek more input from educators before creating new education laws and requirements."

What?! Input from educators before they create more education laws and requirements?! That's crazy talk.

As with all test-driven reform, what Ohio legislators expect to accomplish is unclear. Do Ohio legislators believe that their schools are universally run by liars, fools, and incompetents, rendering an Ohio diploma meaningless? And if so, is there some sort of data suggesting that one third of Ohio's residents are illiterate and un-employable, thereby providing evidence that the high school diplomas they receive are really a lie? Is someone figuring that by denying more students diplomas and thereby making them harder to employ, that will somehow provide a benefit to the state?

What is the goal here, Ohio? Punish teachers? Punish students? Provide "proof" that all public schools should be closed and replaced with charters?

If the legislature has half a brain, they will back away from this plan. Of course, even if they do, a whole bunch of Ohio students have already been thrown into panic and uncertainty about their own future. Work hard and stay in school kids, and one day, you might graduate, or you might not. Who knows? but work hard anyway.


  1. "If the legislature has half a brain, they will back away from this plan."

    I have known a few state-level legislators, most that I've talked to are pretty smart. However, it often seems that the collective IQ is in inverse proportion to the number of these individuals who get together.

  2. If the goal is to graduate as many as possible from high school we should simply give everyone a high school diploma at birth. No need to worry about a third not graduating because everyone will graduate.

    If the goal is to make graduating from high school have a meaning, we should discuss what it means. For example, should every high school graduate be literate and numerate? If 33% of high school students are not literate or numerate, the right percentage of students to graduate from high school might well 66%.

    1. Are 33% really not literate or numerate, or do the tests not assess what they're supposed to?

    2. If we really want to re-think and re-define the meaning of a HS diploma I would suggest that we start with the idea of multiple types of diplomas. But first we must establish multiple pathways for success that the diversity of American students and their parents should be demanding. In the current single diploma, test score requisite system, the political pressure to maximize graduation rates has resulted in a watered-down, 21st century HS diploma that reflects the abilities and motivations of the lowest common denominator.

      False assumptions have been at the root of many reform failures. Assuming that ALL children can be, or want to be “literate and numerate” is one of those false assumptions.

    3. Rebecca,

      I don't know if 33% of high school students are not literate or numerate, but surely we want to first decide what it means to be a high school graduate and let that determine the percentage of high school graduates, not decide the percentage of the population we wish to be high school graduates first and let that determine what high school graduation means.

      NY Teacher,

      If graduating from high school does not mean that a student is literate and numerate, why would high school graduation matter to anyone?

      I certainly do not assume that all children wish to be "literate and numerate", but I also do not assume that these children wish or deserve to be granted a high school diploma. Why do you think "illiterate and innumerate" students should be granted a high school diploma?

    4. TE, the kind of tests we're talking about have been created without first determining a consensus about "what it means to be a high school graduate", and artificial cut scores are determining "the percentage of the population [somebody] wish[es] to be high school graduates".

    5. Rebecca,

      I agree that we should have a discussion about what it means to be a high school graduate. That is the important issue, not targeting a threshold graduation rate.

      I suggested once that it should mean that any high school graduate was well prepared to be begin the ninth grade student at any traditional public high school in the country. That would require students to only be at most four years behind the average student in other school districts. What do you think of that idea? Do you think we meet that standard now?

      Artificial cut scores have always determined who is a high school graduate. Fail a required class, and you do not graduate.

    6. Most teachers design classes so that everyone can pass if they perform adequately. They do not decide beforehand that a certain percentage must fail or pass and then determine a cut score on that basis. Generally when actual teachers do such things they are being bullied, or sometimes simply overridden by higher ups who unilaterally change a student's record.

  3. There's a lot of room to maneuver between giving everyone a high school diploma just for being alive and making it dramatically more difficult to earn a diploma than it used to be.

    For example, the most difficult writing task on the HSPA--New Jersey's graduation exam before the coming of the PARCC--was a persuasive letter, which required the student to generate a thesis and a plan of development and use some sort of evidence, all while writing reasonably coherent sentences. In other words, if you had the skills to write a decent, modest Letter to the Editor, you could pass that portion of the exam.

    On the other hand, many of the writing tasks on the PARCC require the sort of literary analysis skills I was using in seminars I took as an English major at one of the most competitive colleges in the country.

    Now, I love literary analysis, and I certainly think high school English teachers should teach it as a genre of writing. However, I certainly don't think someone should be barred from obtaining a high school diploma because he or she does not, at the age of 18, already have the skills to succeed in an upper-level English seminar at a competitive college. Surely many successful adults have graduated from college in other majors without ever attaining that level of skill; indeed, surely many high school graduates who have not attended college at all are far from illiterate or innumerate.

    1. NewarkTFA,

      Can we agree that high school graduation should mean that a student is to some degree literate and numerate?

      Perhaps even a stricter standard might be in order, something like all high school graduates can read at the sixth grade level or can solve an equation of the from x=9-2x for x.

    2. I think a student who can write the sort of persuasive letter I described above would be defined as "literate" by most people. I also note that when the HSPA was the graduation test in New Jersey it did not meet with notable backlash, test refusal, or other forms of protest and resistance comparable to those the PARCC has inspired.

      If you want to argue that some of the people getting high school diplomas under the old system,did not, in fact, attain the middle-of-road literacy and numeracy standards apparently required to pass the HSPA and that something should have been done it about that issue, fine.

      However, I see no evidence that making it a high school graduation requirement that high school juniors or seniors demonstrate the sort of skills that we would hope to see exhibited by college juniors or seniors helps young people truly unable to read, write, or cipher learn more.

      Obviously, the harder we make it to graduate from high school the fewer people will graduate from high school.

      If the level of difficulty is dialed up so much that it is absolutely impossible for someone who would be a somewhat weak or mediocre (but nevertheless literate and numerate) student in a college class to ever graduate from high school, what is the point of even having a high-school-level educational credential?

    3. I want to argue that we might want to have a discussion about what graduating high school means. Does being awarded a high school diploma reflect a specific level of achievement? That is the first conversation that we need to have.

      As a college faculty member, I have seen students that were certainly innumerate. The most memorable occasion was when a student asked for a calculator to simplify the fraction 120/1. He just wanted to "be sure" of the answer.

    4. Again, I don't see how requiring students to pass exams testing concepts.far, far, far in advance of the one you specify would address the problem you identify. Obviously, anyone who needs a calculator to divide by one lacks a basic knowledge of mathematics. However, setting high cut scores on new, more difficult graduation exams (the actual subject of the blog post) does nothing to address or remediate the profound mathematical ignorance of such a person.
      Assuming that the test in question is a valid and reliable indicator of a person's mathematical knowledge and skill, the student you reference would surely fail a test focused solely on arithmetic, and I have never heard of any high-school-level graduation exam so modest in scope.
      The last 20 years of public k-12 education have been all about accountability and punishment for students, teachers, and schools based on standardized test scores, yet you are seeing this type of problem. Certainly in struggling schools, there is little attention paid to anything other than getting higher scores on ever-more-difficult tests.
      Indeed, perhaps part of the problem is that the current system encourages everyone involved to devote tremendous amounts of time, energy, and money to teaching various test-taking strategies completely focused on squeezing a few more points out of that one specific test, which actually crowds out instruction devoted to, you know, actually understanding concepts and practicing skills that would be useful in some context other than that one exam.
      I'm not against all standardized testing; I'm not against a reasonable graduation exam. However, nothing in my experience, no scientific study of which I am aware, and no line of reasoning with which I have ever been presented suggest that setting high cut scores on more difficult graduation exams will solve the sort of problem you identify in your example.