Standardized Tests: Correlation to Future Successes? (Part II of II)

In a related post, we examined the relationships between eighth-grade proficiency in reading and mathematics, high-school graduation rates, and college remediation-free rates. Broadly speaking, we established that school districts’ test scores, as measured by student proficiency, correlate to high school graduation and college remediation-free rates. In this post, we take a more in depth look at the link between proficiency and remediation.

Consider Figure 1, which represents each Ohio school district’s eighth-grade proficiency and remediation data as a point on the graph. Proficiency data from 2007-08 are coupled with remediation data for first-time college students beginning in fall 2012 in order to compare a somewhat similar cohort of college-going students. (It is important to note that the actual cohort for any particular district would not be the same from 2008 to 2012, as student mobility between districts (or states) is not accounted for, nor are dropouts or grade retentions included. Additionally, remediation only applies to college-going students. These factors change the composition of the cohort.)

It is reasonable to expect that a district with higher proficiency would tend to have a lower remediation rate—success on standardized tests should provide some indication that students are on-track to mastering the skills required for college coursework. For the most part, we find that our data follow this expected trend. In both math and reading, high proficiency rates correlate negatively with participation in developmental (a.k.a. “remedial”) math and English, as demonstrated by the descending trend line. However, we find that a substantial number of districts diverge from the pack, indicating that a high level of proficiency is not necessarily strongly linked to remediation rates[1].

Figure 1: 8th Grade Reading and Math Proficiency versus Remediation Rates, Ohio School Districts


Data source: Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Board of Regents. Notes: Reading proficiency is from 2007-08; remediation rates are form high school graduates in 2012 enrolling as first-time college students in fall 2012. 

Upon inspection of our outliers, we find that some districts record relatively high proficiency rates, yet their students were not college ready after graduation[2]. For example, Osnaburg Local School District (suburban Canton) sported an impressive 92 percent proficiency rate in mathematics. However, of its students attending public colleges in Ohio, 75 percent were in remedial math. Similarly, Frontier Local School District (rural Southeast Ohio) recorded a 73 percent proficiency rate in math, yet 83 percent of its college-going students took remedial mathematics. Something is amiss. Comparable examples exist when remediation rates in English are considered. Campbell City School District (near Youngstown) recorded a 77 percent proficiency in eighth-grade reading, but subsequently, an English remediation rate of 70 percent.

Should we be concerned? Absolutely. We’ve observed that some districts look fine on the state’s assessments, but their performance conceals that a considerable number of their college-going students aren’t truly ready for college coursework. 

It’s not just the outlier districts, discussed above, that are struggling to prepare their students for college. In fact, it’s an epidemic that stretches across the nation and around the state. A recent article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, notes that nationally, 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges and 20 percent of those who enroll in four-year institutions need to take at least one remedial course. In Ohio, the numbers are similar. In 2011, 41 percent of high school graduates enrolling as first-year students in Ohio public colleges and universities were registered for at least one developmental course. The consequences? The Chronicle notes that nationally only 17 percent of students who take remedial courses will complete degrees or certificates.

In addition to the lower probability of college completion, participation in developmental courses in college is costly.  Nationally, the Chronicle finds, higher education institutions spend $7 billion a year on remedial courses for their students. The cost for students is also catastrophic, with student expenditure on developmental courses totaling an estimated $3 billion. In the Buckeye State, colleges and universities spent $146 million on remediation in 2010.

Ohio has rightly acknowledged the misalignment between K-12 standards and college expectations, and efforts are underway to bring secondary schooling into line with post-secondary. The establishment of the High School-Higher Education Alignment Initiative[3]—a collaborative effort that aims to align college-ready expectations between high school and postsecondary institutions—is a tool that should help lower remediation rates for Ohio students. The state is also implementing Ohio’s New Learning Standards, which, in conjunction with the state’s new assessments, should provide a clearer pathway to college preparedness. Taken together, these initiatives signal a brighter future for Ohio’s students—which is critical because the current level of remediation required is simply too high.

[1] The correlation coefficients for proficiency rates in reading and math and subsequent participation in remediation courses in English or math are –0.547 and –0.465 respectively. A coefficient of +1.0 indicates a perfect positive relationship; -1.0 indicates a perfect negative relationship; 0 indicates no relationship between two variables.

[2] We also observe outliers that post relatively low proficiency rates, and subsequently low remediation rates.

[3] The High School-Higher Education Alignment Initiative was developed through Race to the Top, and awarded grants to fourteen consortia of high school, higher education, and career-technical institutions in February 2012. An End of Year Report is required by each funded consortia, and is due by July 18, 2014.