Tackling Ohio’s toughest education challenges: Provide clear information to parents about college readiness

Getty Images/Gunay Aliyeva

Editor’s Note: As Ohioans prepare to elect a new governor this November, and as state leaders look to build upon past education successes, we at the Fordham Institute are developing a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunities for Ohio students. This is the fourth in our series, under the umbrella of maintaining high expectations for all students. You can access all of the entries in the series to date here.

Proposal: Starting as students enter middle school, Ohio should provide families with clear information about whether their children are on a solid pathway for success in college.

Background: As objective gauges of student achievement, statewide exams have several important purposes, including their use in school accountability systems. But perhaps the most important role of state exams is to offer information to Ohio parents about the academic progress of their own children, thus serving as an important “external audit” that supplements the grades they receive from teachers. To this end, the Ohio Department of Education produces family score reports based on state exams, akin to those that families receive after children take college entrance exams. The state’s score reports already provide some valuable information to parents, most notably, whether students reach proficient. While Ohio has raised its proficiency standards in recent years, data suggest that a substantial number of proficient students—perhaps up to one in four—are likely to struggle should they choose to pursue a college education. In 2016-17, roughly 60 percent of Ohio students reached proficient on various state exams. However, ACT data from the class of 2017 indicate that just 46 percent of Ohio graduates taking this exam reached college-ready benchmarks in at least three of its four subject areas; even fewer (33 percent) met its readiness targets in all four. Widely seen as the nation’s gold standard for reporting achievement, data from NAEP reveal that just two in five of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders reach its rigorous proficiency bar. An on- or off-track for college designation should not be presented as certain or fixed (and changes over time could be displayed too). But surveys find that parents tend to overestimate the academic skills of their children—due in part to the rise of “grade inflation” in schools and modest proficiency standards—and a projection of college readiness  would offer a realistic appraisal of where children stand on the path to post-secondary education.

Proposal rationale: Ohio, like most states, hasn’t fully aligned its proficiency standards with college-ready benchmarks. The result: parents do not receive clear signals about whether their children are on-track for college often until it’s too late. Although college may not be the optimal path for all young people, it’s an aspiration that many parents have for their children—and most adolescents hold for themselves. Through a partnership with the data-analytics company, SAS, Ohio already provides data to educators that forecast students’ ACT or SAT scores based on state exams results. This information should be provided to families as well. Providing projections about college prospects could inspire them to engage more actively in the educational success of their children, encourage them to seek academic help, if warranted, and support informed decisions about high school options and beyond.

Cost: Minimal fiscal impact on the state budget. The Ohio Department of Education would likely incur nominal administrative expenses to update its family score reports.

Resources: For more on states’ proficiency standards, including analyses showing that Ohio has a relatively low proficiency bar, see Daniel Hamlin and Paul Peterson’s article in Education Next titled “Rigor of State Proficiency Standards, 2017” (2018); for Ohio’s NAEP and state proficiency rates, see the Fordham Institute web page, “Ohio By the Numbers”; and for ACT data for Ohio’s  class of 2017, see ACT, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2017: Ohio Key Findings.” Survey data on parents’ views of their kids’ achievement and college aspirations can be found in Learning Heroes’ 2017 report “Parents 2017: Unleashing Their Power & Potential” and Jon Marcus discusses grade inflation in an article titled “Why Suburban Schools Are Inflating Kids' Grades,The Atlantic (2017). For information about family score reports, see Ohio Department of Education, “Ohio’s State Tests, 2017–18” and for a note about how educators can access predictive analytics on ACT/SAT scores, see ibid., “Updated reports available on EVAAS value-added site.”