New state standards mean achievement scores will drop

by Dr. Joe Clark | Superintendent of Schools Published:

Changes are coming to the way Ohio schools test students, and the initial results may be alarming.

Currently Ohio students are tested in math and reading in third through eighth grade and science in fifth and eighth grade. High school sophomores are tested in math, reading, science, social studies and writing.

The Ohio Department of Education rates students who take state assessments in one of five categories: limited, basic, proficient, accelerated and advanced. In Nordonia, between 75 and 99 percent of our students score proficient or above on any given test. On average for all state tests, about 90 percent of Nordonia students score in the proficient, accelerated or advanced categories.

But education leaders have noticed a strange dichotomy throughout the nation, including Ohio: Namely, how could students score so high on state assessments yet be so ill prepared for college? The Ohio Board of Regents reported that 40 percent of public college students often took on debt for remedial classes.

Thus, the Common Core State Standards were born. These English language arts and mathematics standards represent a set of expectations for student knowledge and skills that high school graduates need to master to succeed in college and careers.

The common core standards are what you can think of as the district's curriculum, or what students are expected to learn. The new standards are considered to be much more rigorous than Ohio's current standards.

In 2013 Nordonia will fully implement the new CCSS in all grades. In 2014, we will begin using Ohio's new online tests to determine how our children compare on the CCSS with children in other states. These tests are being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career and will replace the current slate of Ohio state tests.

Because the new standards and tests are so much more rigorous, when the new PARCC assessments are implemented and scored, the results around the state may be lower than what we have become accustomed. In fact, school districts around Ohio have been warned by ODE that students who currently score in the proficient level on a given test will no longer be considered proficient. Instead, starting in 2014 a student will need to achieve at what is currently the advanced or accelerated level to be considered proficient.

In Nordonia, that means we initially could expect our percentage of students passing the tests to drop about 30 percent.

In Nordonia, teachers have been working with principals and the curriculum office to "map" the standards, or design a plan for which standards will be taught when.

The maps include plans for "formative assessments," or periodic checks to see that students are mastering the new content before they take the state PARCC tests. Teachers analyze data from the formative assessments to determine where they should give remediation to students who are struggling in one or more of the content areas.

To date, we do not yet know what the new PARCC tests will look like. The tests will emphasize reasoning and logic and ask students not just to give correct answers, but to write essays describing their thinking process. A sample third-grade math question, for example, has five parts. The student is given a picture of a hexagon and asked to divide the shape into six equal pieces, then write a fraction for how much of the hexagon each piece represents, divide a number line into sixths, and write an essay telling why or why not 3/4 is greater than 3/6.

A sample PARCC question for high school math asks students to write a recursive definition for the sequence that represents the number of cells in the growth medium at the end of each week as shown in a given table, and write an essay explaining how the process the student used to find a number relates to either the recursive model or the explicit model the student constructed in the previous questions.

The new standards and assessments will be a rigorous challenge to students and staff. We believe the increased rigor is good for kids, though, and we will continue to work to make sure our students achieve at the highest possible level.

Have a great month, and remember to follow me on Twitter @DrJoeClark.

Editor's note: Clark is superintendent of Nordonia Hills City Schools.

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