Getting Tough on Weak-Kneed Tests

This school year marks the first that Ohio gets serious about the Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT). Students in the class of 2007 will be required to pass the OGT in order to receive a high school diploma. It's a critical first step on the road to ensuring that the state's high school diplomas carry more weight both with universities and with potential employers.

But it's far from the last step. Achieve, Inc. found that the OGT is set at the eighth-grade level, and students must answer just a small percentage of questions in math and reading (36 percent and 52 percent, respectively) to pass. That's one reason we've been keen supporters of Governor Taft's Ohio Core proposal (see here), which, should it pass, would require students to take additional math and science courses and better prepare them for post-secondary opportunities.

Yet a rigorous college preparatory curriculum needs a metric that can effectively evaluate its impact. The OGT isn't it.

Ohio should defer to its southern neighbor for guidance. Kentucky's Board of Education is strongly considering augmenting its high school assessment, the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), with ACT questions in reading, writing, math and science. Such a move would increase the rigor of the CATS and add the unique capability to compare performance on state test items with achievement on a national indicator of college readiness.

Kentucky already passed legislation this year requiring all high school juniors to take the ACT, starting in 2007-08. EXPLORE and PLAN, ACT's eighth- and tenth-grade companion assessments, were also adopted--along with the option for students to take WorkKeys, a work place readiness test. Two decisions also up for consideration include whether to compare student scores on the ACT and PLAN with national averages, and whether students' ACT scores should be factored into overall high school ratings. These steps--coupled with a tougher state assessment--could help ensure Kentucky's graduates are better prepared for life after high school.

Meanwhile, Ohio's cities continue to rank in the lowest rungs of annual income surveys. Cleveland ranked dead last on the U.S. Census Bureau's recent list of the nation's large cities, its median household income just $24,105. Cincinnati rests only four spots above with a median household income of $29,554. And Dayton placed ninth from the bottom in the mid-size city survey, its median household income figure at under $26,000.

These numbers will continue to disappoint if Ohio's future graduates aren't adequately prepared to meet the demands of college and the work place. Measuring their readiness is a critical step in such preparation.

The OGT may have grown some teeth this year, but it's still weak in the knees. Ohio's State Board of Education members should follow Kentucky's lead and consider the ACT.

In this instance, the bluegrass may definitely be greener.

"ACT, SAT-Driven High Schools," Editorial, The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 1, 2006.

"State Officials Embrace ACT," by Karen Gutierrez, The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 29, 2006.

"Survey: Ohio's Cities Rank Low for Income," by Ken McCall, The Dayton Daily News, August 29, 2006.

Check out the Kentucky Board of Education's agenda here.

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