Eye on Education

Ohio Wants to Nix No Child Left Behind 100-Percent Student Success Goal

Karim Jaafar / AFP/Getty Images

Ohio officials say its new, proposed school accountability system will raise the bar for Ohio schools and be an improvement on the system currently in place under No Child Left Behind.

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.

% of Ohio Schools Receiving Each State Grade

Current System Proposed System
A or A+ 52% 3%
B 25% 45%
C 13% 20%
D 6% 20%
F 5% 12%

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.)

Ohio’s NCLB Waiver Request


  • Duckmonkeyman

    Perhaps the best math lesson learned here is that learning is asymptotic – it takes exponentially more effort to achieve the next incremental gain. This is not a pleasant thought but closer to reality. The underlying assumption in the waivers is that these tests can measure teachers accurately. But this is akin to judging good verses bad doctors based on patient waistlines.

  • Ptignor

    Mr. Heffner, The ones who need help are the ones who cant read like my son. Stop with all the LOOPHOLES and just open your eyes instead of your pocket. I am so sick of reading all of this bull from the federal gov. on down. We do not need all of these pilot programs and years to just SEE what happens,, we already KNOW. Children are not being taught to read. If it walks and talks like a duck, then it is a duck.

    I hope Mr. Heffner, that you can read this, unless you were educated in my sons school. NCLB left so many loopholes for educators, that it isnt helping the very children it was designed to help. Thousands of Ohios children ARE being left behind.

    Please wake up parents,,teaching our children to MEMORIZE thousands of site words,,,IS NOT READING. Can they spell them??? Not without phonics they cant!!!!!

    • Smith41401

      There are always things that can be done to improve education for individual students, but to think that everyone will be at grade level is completely unrealistic. As a special education teacher I know it is not politically correct to say this, but there are kids and adults who have significant mental disabilities and cannot function at grade level. To fail a school because it happens to have a student like this is idiotic. If a student cannot read and has the cognitive ability then an individualized approach should be pursued with realistic goals set. It seems pretty simple to me.
      Your assumptions on reading apply to some kids. Individual students learn differently,
      some students need to learn sight words to increase fluency. Some need phonics, it really depends on the way the individual student’s brain works. There are highly educated people who cannot spell simple words, because they cannot see the words in their head before they write it.

      • Ptignor

        I do not have assumptions about reading. All you have to do is look at the stats for reading.. Reading is being taught by sight with little phonics that is neither explicit or systematic,,that my friend is the problem. Our language is phonetic and some idiot 60 or 70 yrs ago, thought that whole word was a better way to teach reading. Now look at all the functional illiterates we have, 50,000,000 and growing!! Why do you think that is??

        Whole word is a sham, that is destroying childrens reading ability. Telling children to guess at words, or just skip them is ridiculous. Guessing isnt reading and it is not teaching either. Teachers are being facilitators not teachers. Children need TAUGHT to read, not guided, actually taught using explicit systematic phonics.

        My son , at the end of third grade was reading at a Kinder level. I pulled him out after I found out HOW they were doing reading and bought a phonics program. He jumped levels in reading. What the schools are doing to children is a disgrace and educational neglect! Children are being dumped in special education because of sight reading programs and nothing else,, where they remain because the interventions are all sight based.

        If you want to help your students, give them explicit systematic phonics taught with fidelity and you will see them read. No pictures please!!!

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