Truth in numbers: Student proficiency in Ohio now and under the Common Core

Among the suite of education proposals included in Governor Kasich’s “mid-biennium review” legislation is a transition from Ohio’s current, confusing, and complicated school-rating system to a more straightforward A to F one. Not only would the new system be easier for parents, educators, and the public to understand, it would also provide a more accurate assessment of how well schools and districts in the Buckeye State are educating students (which isn’t quite as well as many of them have been led to believe – see Bianca and Terry’s analysis, here). The proposed changes are a necessary step towards a more honest appraisal of how well prepared Buckeye State students are for the work and college. It also provides insights for what is necessary to increase preparedness for students moving forward.

But another change in the works, one not included in the governor’s bill (because it doesn’t require a change in law), is equally important when it comes to helping all players in the K-12 arena prepare for the higher expectations and rigor of the Common Core standards and the 21st-century global economy in which our students, as adults, will compete.

Early drafts of this year’s district- and building-level report cards were shared this week with the State Board of Education. The cover includes an “early warning system” alerting parents that higher standards and more rigorous assessments are just two school years away. Next to the school’s current percent of students proficient in reading and math is a projection of the percent of students who would be proficient in 2014-15 under the new system (the state uses the percent of students who are “accelerated” or “advanced” on the current tests as a proxy). In most cases (as State Superintendent Heffner said at our February Common Core event), proficient rates drop by half.

For example, in Columbus (Ohio’s largest district):

  • In third-grade reading, 61 percent of students are proficient under the current system; just 37 would be under the new one.
  • By eighth grade, just 29 percent would be proficient under the new system, despite 69 percent being deemed proficient today.

The results are worse for certain subgroups:

  • Sixty percent of black students and sixty percent of economically disadvantaged students in Columbus are currently proficient in reading (across all tested grades); yet just 20 percent would be proficient come 2015.

These projections are stark and show just how great the challenges are facing students, schools and districts as Ohio moves forward in fully implementing the Common Core and the greater academic expectations that go along with it. Lawmakers, the state board of education, and the state superintendent are sure to take much flak from local education leaders and others about broadcasting such dismal information. But shining light on the reality of how well our students are doing is the first step to upgrading expectations for students, schools and the larger community, and ultimately developing the capacities needed to meet the challenge.

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