When the General Assembly adopted theback in 2012, it was in response to showing that reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a “make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development.” Ensuring that kids (with some ) couldn’t enter fourth grade until they demonstrated minimum competency in reading was viewed as a crucial step toward making sure they didn’t fall through the cracks.
As Ohio’s new guarantee started to be implemented, though, some folks started to express concerns that. To avoid a perceived catastrophe, state policymakers permitted students to be promoted to fourth grade based on approved by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Unfortunately, it isn’t clear that students who were promoted using alternative assessments had the same reading capabilities as those who were promoted using state tests. For example, during the first year of implementation, reduced the number of possible retentions from . And in 2018–19, —well over 3,000 students—were promoted to fourth grade based on an alternative exam.
The pandemic put the guarantee and the rest of the state’s accountability policies in a holding pattern. But now that, so too are the calls to do away with retention. Earlier this month, the House education committee had its first hearing on , which aims to eliminate student retention under the guarantee. Given the long-term importance of early literacy, lawmakers are wise to discuss whether there are ways to improve policy and practice. But it’s also important to learn from the mistakes of the past. While high expectations and stick with them even when the going gets tough, Ohio has . Consider the following.
In 2009, in an effort to address how many students were leaving high school with aof their own readiness and success, Ohio lawmakers tasked the state board with drafting a new set of graduation requirements. In 2014, the General Assembly passed legislation that gave students in the class of 2018 and beyond three pathways to a diploma. The primary pathway required students to pass their classes and accumulate a certain number of points by passing newly created end-of-course (EOC) exams, which replaced the far too easy (OGTs). By 2016, district superintendents were sounding the alarm about an impending They warned that because the new EOCs were more demanding than OGTs, as much as one third of the class of 2018 might fail to meet graduation standards.
Like they did with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, the Ohio General Assembly opted to ignore all the reasons they changed the law in the first place and swoop in to “save” the day. They did so by following misguided recommendations from the State Board of Education and allowing students to graduate based on, such as school attendance, course grades, a senior project, or volunteer hours. As was the case with reading assessments, the alternative graduation pathways were of questionable rigor. took advantage of the weakened alternatives to inflate their graduation rates, and districts that were high-poverty or enrolled larger percentages of students of color via the low-level pathways. Initial graduation spikes looked impressive, but the diplomas behind them weren’t necessarily accurate indicators of student readiness.
The good news is that after plenty of additional debate, the state enshrined improvedinto law. But it’s also important to note that these requirements haven’t yet been put to the test. They go into effect starting with the class of 2023—which means it’s possible we could yet see history repeat itself.
Academic Distress Commissions
Academic Distress Commissions, or ADCs, were a state-level initiative that required ODE to intervene in chronically underperforming school districts. For the most part, debate over ADC policy followed an identical pattern to graduation requirements. First, lawmakers recognized that there were several districts failing to improve academic outcomes, and that their persistent underperformance was negatively impacting students. Next, theythe law by lessening the power of the local school board and with managerial and operational authority to devise and implement a district turnaround plan. And then, when raising expectations and implementing intervention efforts was met with an inevitable firestorm of pushback, lawmakers scrambled to back down.
Last year,for the three districts currently under ADC oversight: Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland. The law removes the CEO, returns power to the local school board, and charges each board with developing an academic improvement plan that contains annual and overall improvement benchmarks with minimal specific requirements. The state has since of all three districts. Unfortunately—but predictably— . For all intents and purposes, these districts are right back where they started.
To be clear, ADCs weren’t perfect. There werethat needed to be addressed. But there were also . Unfortunately, that improvement didn’t matter. Just as they did with graduation requirements and the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, state lawmakers set a high standard and then buckled when faced with political pressure.
For the last decade, Ohio has talked the talk about setting high standards for students, holding schools accountable, and making sure that academic outcomes grow increasingly better over time. But as these policies are implemented and the sometimes-unwelcome consequences kick in, Ohio leaders have failed to walk the walk. House Bill 497 could be the latest example of the state’s bad habit of backing off when the going gets tough. Hopefully, though, Ohio will finally break the habit.