September 19, 2013
"If you're comfortable with mediocrity, fine." – Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
Sharper words could not have been spoken in the face of torrential criticism against the Common Core nationally and here in Ohio. For those unaware, the Common Core are new, rigorous academic standards in English and math that Ohio and 44 other states have voluntarily adopted and are in the process of implementing. The data below suggest that the Buckeye State's K-12 education system, taken as a whole, is still mired in “mediocrity.” As such, these data should provide ample reason for Ohioans to back a full-throttled implementation of the Common Core.
Ohio’s main college admissions exam is administered by the ACT, an organization that has established “College Readiness” benchmarks in the four subject areas it tests (English, reading, math, science). The benchmarks are tied to the probability a test taker will obtain a B or C in a corresponding freshman-level college course (50 percent chance of getting a B, or a 75 percent chance of getting a C). In 2013, 92,813 Ohio graduates took the ACT exam—and less than a third of them (31 percent) reached all four subject-matter benchmarks. Grads performed best in English (71 percent made the benchmark, or a score of 18). But, in the other three content areas, far fewer graduates made it. Barely half of Ohio’s graduates hit the reading benchmark (51 percent, score of 22), while less than half reached the math (49 percent, score of 22) and science benchmarks (44 percent, score of 23).
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, aka, the “Nation’s Report Card”) is America’s most extensive and reliable guage of what students know and can do. The exam is administered periodically in nine subjects across all states, and for a given NAEP exam, a representative sample of Ohio students will take it. The U.S. Department of Education reports the percent of students who reach each of NAEP’s three achievement levels—basic, proficient, and advanced. “Proficient” indicates that the student has exhibited “solid academic performance.” Ohio’s NAEP proficiency rates are mediocre, if not dismal. Among the 8th graders who took the NAEP in 2011, just 39 percent reached proficiency (or above) on the math exam, while 37 percent did so in reading. Fourth graders performed similarly to their 8th grade counterparts in 2011: 45 percent achieved proficiency in math, while 34 percent did so in reading.
College remediation, the practice of requiring incoming freshman to take non-credit coursework, puts students immediately behind in college, and is associated with dropping out. Forty-one percent of Ohio’s high-school graduates—public and private school grads—were required to take a remedial course in either math or English upon entering an in-state, public college or university. More students had to take remedial math (35 percent) compared to English (20 percent)—but 14 percent of students were required by their college to take both remedial math and English. Ohio’s remediation rate indicates, clearly, that the academic rigor and expectations of the state’s K-12 system are not aligned with the expectations of colleges and universities.
The Common Core academic standards are not for the faint of heart. They are for parents, school leaders, and teachers who thirst for clearer and higher academic expectations for Ohio’s children. They are standards for those who are dissatisfied with “mediocrity”: those dissatisfied that less than one-third of students meet the benchmarks (yes, all of them) on the ACT; for those dissatisfied that well over 50 percent of Ohio’s 4th and 8th graders cannot reach America’s own standard for “proficiency”; and it’s for those dissatisfied that 40 percent of Ohio’s college freshman have to take remedial coursework. Rather than accepting mediocrity, Ohio policy makers should embrace the Common Core and the parents, school leaders, and teachers who want excellence in K-12 education.