Testing & Accountability

Ever since the supposed “graduation apocalypse” was first declared two years ago, we at Fordham have been vocal about the dangers of mischaracterizing Ohio’s graduation rates, passing permanent laws without data, and lowering expectations for students.

Of particular concern were the alternatives proffered by the State Board of Education and passed by the legislature for the Class of 2018. These softball alternatives allowed students to graduate based on things like attendance, capstone projects, and volunteer hours. Since the start of the school year, district officials have been calling for these alternatives to be extended to the classes of 2019 and 2020. This week, the Senate Education Committee buckled under pressure: House Bill 491 includes an amendment that, if passed by the full Senate and House (and ratified by Governor Kasich), would extend softened requirements to this year’s juniors and seniors.

As outspoken opponents of the watered-down requirements, we are disappointed that they may once again be used to award Ohio students a diploma. For twenty-five years—since 1994—Ohio students have had to demonstrate some level of objective academic competence to receive a diploma. Not now, nor for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, none of this was...


COLUMBUS (OH) – The Senate Education Committee today amended House Bill 491 to extend previously-relaxed graduation requirements for the class of 2018 to the classes of 2019 and 2020.

“Despite consistent feedback that too many Ohio high school graduates aren’t ready for credit bearing college courses and don’t possess the skills necessary to enter the workforce, the Senate is again rolling back what’s required to receive a high school diploma,” said Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “The point of raising the bar in the first place was to help students be prepared when they leave high school. While adults in the education system will rejoice if this change becomes law, students taking an easier path and left without an industry credential or grade level math and English skills will be left to pay the ultimate price.”

Rather than earning a diploma by successfully passing end-of-course exams, achieving remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT, or attaining an industry credential and demonstrating workforce skills, students in the class of 2019 would be able to graduate by completing tasks from a list which includes a 93 percent senior year attendance...


The sad state of credit recovery

On this week’s podcast, Samantha Viano, Assistant Professor of Education at George Mason University, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss Fordham’s new study of credit recovery programs, and her own work on the subject. On the Research Minute, Adam Tyner examines how high school start times affect student outcomes.

Amber’s Research Minute

Kevin C. Bastian and Sarah C. Fuller, “Answering the Bell: High School Start Times and Student Academic Outcomes,” AERA Open (November 2018).

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ohio Senate Education Committee is this week taking testimony on House Bill 491 which, as amended, would extend lowered, non-academic graduation requirements to the Classes of 2019 and 2020. Fordham’s Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy provided written testimony in opposition to those changes. That testimony is below.

Thank you, Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Huffman, Ranking Member Sykes, and Senate Education Committee members for the opportunity to provide written testimony on amendments potentially being offered on House Bill 491 related to softening the graduation requirements for future graduating classes.

In 2014, when the legislature adopted the current graduation requirements and raised the expectations for Ohio students to get a diploma, we applauded your resolve and commitment. It was a powerful acknowledgement that too few Ohio students were graduating high school with the skills necessary to be successful in college or to enter the workforce. Fully one third of Ohio students who did enter an Ohio college required remediation before taking credit-bearing courses. And we routinely heard reports of good paying jobs sitting vacant because young people didn’t have the skills that employers needed.

That’s why this body raised graduation requirements. Last year’s graduating class, the Class...


The ongoing debate on what standards (if any) students in the class of 2019 should have to meet in order to receive a diploma has resulted in very little attention being paid to recent recommendations by the Ohio State Board of Education to change graduation requirements for the classes of 2022 and beyond. In response to clamors for a “long term fix” to graduation standards, the state board has proposed requirements based on criteria such as vaguely defined culminating student experiences (CSEs) that align with concepts of personalized learning—a term used throughout the board’s strategic plan and emphasized in the “each child” part of the plan’s title. The board’s ideas are also reflected in a recent Ohio Department of Education statement supporting the proposal: “Students, with their parents and teachers, will choose how they demonstrate their career, college, or life readiness...with options like an internship, capstone project, or culminating student experience.”

Within limits, it’s perfectly fine to tailor classroom instruction to the needs and interests of individual students. But the application of personalized learning to graduation standards is misguided, especially when viewed through the lens of educational equity—an important concept that the state...


How to separate the wheat from the chaff on technical credentials

On this week’s podcast, Mary Alice McCarthy, a director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss how leading states like Florida are vetting thousands of technical credentials to identify the ones worth pursuing. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the relationship across the globe between testing policies and student achievement.

Amber’s Research Minute

Annika B. Bergbauer et al., “Testing,” National Bureau of Economic Research (July 2018).

Editor’s Note: As Ohioans await the start of the new governor’s term in January, 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 tenth 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: The ODE should move state testing windows from April to May, and state law should require the ODE to pilot computer-adaptive testing.

Background: Ohio administers statewide math and English language arts (ELA) exams in grades 3–8; science exams in grades 5 and 8; and math, ELA, science, and U.S. history and government exams during high school. These exams provide parents with regular feedback on their children’s progress against academic standards. And because state assessments yield objective, comparable information on pupil achievement, they also form the basis of a school report card that offers an impartial, external check on district and school performance. Yet implementing such a battery of assessments brings its own challenges. Schools have raised concerns...


In Ohio’s great graduation debate, we at Fordham have warned that lowering the bar is tantamount to the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Weakened standards, such as those pushed by the State Board of Education, imply that many low-income pupils need alternative routes to diplomas because they’re unable of reaching the state’s academic or career-technical requirements. Yet as this piece discusses, lowering our sights won’t just hurt poor students, it’ll also ask much less of our young men, especially Ohio’s young men of color.

Consider the four-year graduation rates for the class of 2017, the most recent available, displayed in the figures below. This was the final cohort subject to Ohio’s “old” graduation requirements, which included passage of the low-level Ohio Graduation Tests (OGTs). Figure 1 shows average graduation rates across Ohio’s district typologies, classifications developed by ODE to group districts with similar socio-economic and geographic characteristics. You’ll notice that graduation rates for males trail behind their female counterparts across all typologies, suggesting that high-school completion for young men should be a widespread concern. The disparities are most visible in Ohio’s high-poverty urban areas that include big- and small-city districts, and some inner-ring suburbs.



Ohio’s news outlets have covered the debate over graduation requirements as if it were a burning problem that policymakers need to urgently “fix.” For instance, the local NPR affiliate headlined an article, “Ohio education panel still crafting long-term fix on graduation standards.” The Dayton Daily News ran a piece titled, “State school board backs long-term graduation changes, weighs emergency fix.”

Such headlines are likely inspired by public officials who have raised alarms over the past two years that Ohio’s new graduation standards would withhold diplomas from too many students. In fact, one former State Board of Education member predicted that graduation rates would fall sharply to 60 percent for the class of 2018, the first cohort subject to the state’s updated requirements that include exam-based and career-technical pathways. Based on these concerns, state lawmakers approved softball alternatives that this cohort could meet to receive high school diplomas. Various policymakers have expressed interest in extending less demanding options to future graduating classes.

Now that much of the class of 2018 has moved onto bigger and better things, it’s a good time to step back and see how these students fared in terms of meeting...


A few weeks ago, officials at ACT released a report that breaks down the ACT test results of the 2018 graduating class. It examines participation and performance overall, as well as data based on college and career readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science that indicate whether students are prepared to succeed in first-year college courses. 

At the national level, the results are disheartening. The data—which account for more than 1.9 million graduates, or 55 percent of students in the 2018 national graduating class—show that the average composite score dropped from 21 to 20.8. Average scores in all four subjects also slid compared to last year (though only between 0.1 and 0.3 points).

As for the benchmarks, readiness in both math and English has been steadily declining since 2014. This year was no exception: 40 percent of graduates met the math benchmark, the lowest percentage in fourteen years, and 60 percent met the benchmark in English, the lowest level since the benchmarks were first introduced. Reading and science readiness levels were both down by 1 percentage point compared to the year prior, but generally show flat long-term trends.

In Ohio, the declines were larger. The table below...