Ohio is setting higher expectations for students by expecting fewer to pass state tests each year.
Yup, you read that right.
In a request to the U.S. Department of Education for freedom from some of the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Ohio is asking to get rid of the expectation that all students will pass state reading and math tests by the 2014-15 school year.
Instead, Ohio would set specific goals for more students to pass the tests in each of the next six years. So by 2016-17, Ohio would expect at least 89 percent of all students to pass state math tests and about 91 percent to pass state reading tests. But no student group — like white students or African American students or low-income students — would be expected to have all students pass.
The U.S. Department of Education is expected to rule on Ohio’s No Child Left Behind waiver request, and those of 25 other states and the District of Columbia, in about two months.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner says the new proposed Fewer Children Left Behind system (our words, not his) is not a “watering down” of Ohio’s expectations for public schools. It actually raises those expectations, he says:
“We are being realistic about how many students in a given year can make progress.”
Ohio Department of Education researchers predict that by 2014-15, only ten percent of schools would meet No Child Left Behind’s goals, Heffner says.
We asked him today, “What do you say to the parents of children who might be ‘left behind’ under this new system?” His answer:
“All kids count: The new system is going to help us identify which kids are struggling and which kids need help… This system is aimed specially at raising the academic achievement for all kids and making sure they’re able to perform better than they can now.”
That’s because in 2014-15 Ohio will start giving what state officials say will be harder tests in math and English. These new tests will be tied to the use of a new curriculum called the Common Core that about 45 other states will also use.
Ohio Department of Education
% of Ohio Schools Receiving Each State Grade
A or A+
Ohio Department of Education
Many expect the grades required to pass these new tests to be much higher than the passing grades required for Ohio’s current state tests. (Last year, 35 percent was the passing grade for Ohio’s sixth grade reading test.)
Plus these new online tests — likely to be given four times a year — should help teachers measure students’ progress during the year and know better when to step in to offer extra help, state officials say.
That’s how Heffner can say lowering the percentage of kids required to pass actually means raising expectations.
But that’s not the only big change Ohio requests in its No Child Left Behind waiver.
Wait, There’s More!
If the feds approve Ohio’s waiver, Ohio schools would have a single rating, rather than the state rating of, say, “Academic Watch” and a federal rating of, say, “Fails to Meet AYP” – adequate yearly progress.
Other changes that Ohio requests include:
- For the first time, counting the performance of special education students, students in each racial and ethnic group, and low-income students for schools’ and districts’ state ratings. That’s as long as there are at least 30 students in each category. Right now, if all of the students in one of those categories fail state tests, but enough of a school’s other students pass, it does not effect a school’s rating.
- Awarding schools A-F letter grades instead of the current system of labels such as “Excellent” and “Academic Emergency.” That would mean bringing a curve back to how Ohio’s schools are graded: Last year, more than half got an “A” or “A+.” Under the proposed system, about 3 percent would, the Ohio Department of Education says.
- Loosening restrictions on how school districts that receive federal funds targeted for low-performing schools can use that money; and
- Reforming the system providing federally funded tutoring to children at low-performing schools, which has been “vulnerable to fraud” in the past.
Let’s Make a Deal
The idea behind the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waiver program is that, instead of (or while) Congress considers reauthorizing the existing law, the federal Department of Education frees states from many of the law’s requirements in exchange for states promising to enact policies the Obama administration likes.
Those policies — like aiming to have high school graduates ready for college or non-minimum wage jobs, and improving how teachers and principals are evaluated — happen to coincide with much of what Ohio is already doing.
Heffner said today that Ohio’s No Child Left Behind waiver request has been endorsed by state education groups including the teachers unions and the associations representing school boards, superintendents and school principals as well as the president of the Ohio Board of Education.
What Happens Next?
If Ohio’s waiver is approved, schools would see the new letter grades replace labels on the report cards coming out this summer, but the other changes would begin in the 2012-13 school year, Heffner said.
To make these changes a reality, Ohio state lawmakers have to change several state laws and the U.S. Department of Education needs to approve Ohio’s request.
Heffner said Gov. John Kasich’s office would help lobby to get the changes included in the upcoming budget review bill.
And expert reviewers — the kinds of people that the feds typically ask to review things like No Child Left Behind waivers — have told Ohio officials that Ohio’s proposal has a good shot at being approved, Heffner says.
Education Week’s Michele McNeil says:
Given that the Education Department approved all 11 requests for waivers from the first round, it seems very likely the vast majority of of these requests will be approved at some point. (Although certainly the department will seek changes before doing so.)