Grading on a Curve: The Illusion of Excellence in Ohio's Schools
The number of districts rated excellent in Ohio has risen dramatically over the past several years, from 85 in the 2002-2003 school year to 352 in the 2010-11 school year (almost 60 percent of all districts in the state). Are students performing at higher levels than ever before, or are there other factors contributing to the large increase in excellent ratings? The authors of Grading on Curve: The Illusion of Excellence in Ohio’s Schools would argue the latter.
The report by the Ohio Association for Gifted Children points to the complexity of Ohio’s accountability system as well as low cut scores on Ohio’s assessment tests for the rise in the number of excellent districts. For example, achievement standards only require that 75 percent of students assessed at various grade levels be proficient in order for that indicator to be met. Therefore, if 75 percent of third graders score at a proficient level in math, the district meets the third grade indicator even though 25 percent of students are not proficient. Districts can also get a “bump” up to excellent for making above expected gains in value-added, thus leading to further inflation.
The report also points to NAEP results as further evidence that Ohio’s performance standards are too low. Forty-two percent of Ohio’s fourth graders scored at the accelerated level in reading, compared to the NAEP results that indicate only 9 percent of students scored at the same level. Several other measures such as Advanced Placement examinations and ACT scores are good indicators of whether a district is performing at an excellent standard. Sixty-seven districts rated excellent had zero students take an AP exam, while 109 districts had ACT scores below the state average.
Policymakers are often asked to waive certain funding constraints for excellent districts, but if these districts are not truly high-performing should they be receiving waivers and more autonomy? The report suggests several policy recommendations to bolster the meaning of excellence. Among the recommendations include incorporating high-quality metrics into the accountability system such as college remediation rates and performance on AP exams, and a move toward nationally normed high school assessments such as the ACT or SAT.
Ohio Association for Gifted Children
Ann E. Sheldon & Colleen D. Grady
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