June 8, 2004
The Ohio Graduation Test will have an impact. Whether that impact is perceived as good or bad depends on whoís talking.
Some critics predict massive student failures; others suggest the outcomes are still understandably murky; still others see no connection between high stakes tests and lower graduation rates.
What to believe? Who to believe?
The push toward standards, assessment and accountability started 20 years ago with the "A Nation at Risk" report. Its authors claimed that the well being of America was being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.
A room full of subsequent reports suggest every conceivable type of solution. The one most Ohio parents will experience is high-stakes testing such as the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT).
Students who hope to graduate in 2007 will be the first who have to pass the test to get their diplomas. Debates are now occurring about the content of the OGT and the process for determining who passes and who fails.
In early versions designed to establish cut-off scores, far too many students failed and especially far too many students of color performed poorly. Experts are now "playing" with the test.
But the test is coming.
Will Ohioís 10th-graders be ready? Are Ohioís schools adequately preparing students for success? And, is there anything that can be done to mitigate the likelihood of an educational policy disaster?
Our answers: No, No, and Maybe.
First "No": Ohioís 9th-graders are not now ready for the tests. Ohio, like other states, is slowly aligning its systems of standards, assessment and accountability. But many students will fall between the cracks of those unaligned systems.
Colleges also are still uneven about preparing teachers to teach.
And schools, especially urban schools, are just beginning to identify practices that can help students perform better, but they often lack resources to develop their teachers.
In early trial tests of the graduation test, up to 75 percent of some student groups failed. Later tests produced more positive, but still disturbing results.
That brings us to, "What to do ? "
Clearly, Ohioans want the high-school diploma to mean something. It must be more than a seat time credential.
The State Board of Educationís Task Force on Quality High Schools offered two improvements:
There will always be some students who know the content but cannot pass the test. While we cannot explain why that is the case, it is clear that it is a reality. Ohioís system needs to be open enough to ensure that a student who cannot test is not tested beyond his or her limits.
We suggest a third improvement:
Create more secondary school structures that meet the unique learning needs of the diverse student populations now in secondary schools. Urban schools such as those in Dayton (the Dayton Early College Academy) are already beginning to make this change. Secondary students can go through high school in lots of different ways that are not at all typical of the traditional comprehensive high school. If the goal is to help all students to learn to their potential and to a set of agreed upon standards, then Ohio needs to become a leader in what high school looks like.
Why all the fuss about how to teach and test? Why not just set the standard and hold students accountable?
Because no one really knows what will happen. Some researchers claim drop out rates increase with exit tests. Some say they donít. Who is right? No one really knows.
What is known is that Ohio can create a system that has the complexity and sophistication that Ohioís young people deserve.
Without solutions, good solutions, it is likely that large numbers of students will just not make it. We already have a system where students drop out. Ohio must create something better . . . and that means that more than a test must be put in place.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data