I recently blogged regarding the announcement that half of the nation’s public schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind progress goals, which has added incentive for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others to give waivers to states allowing them to change the standards for “adequate yearly progress” in schools. One such state which plans to apply for a waiver happens to be my own home state of Ohio.
Ohio public schools did better than the nation, with 60 percent meeting federal goals during the last school year, but half of its districts failed to meet these goals.
Under current NCLB policy, all public school students are to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. To guarantee that this occurs, the federal government required states to set “adequate yearly progress” goals. Each year or every few years, these goals must be raised. Due to this practice, most states now require approximately 90 percent or more of their students to pass the state tests.
Since Ohio and Kentucky recently adopted demanding math and reading curricula and are also developing new, college-preparatory tests for students, Duncan has argued that this high bar penalizes states like these.
How bad is the problem in Ohio? Well, in the Cincinnati area, 45 percent of its public schools failed federal annual academic progress goals. The largest district, Cincinnati Public, had 67 percent of its schools fail, and the second largest, Lakota, had 9 out of 20 of its schools fail. Winton Woods had all six schools fail.
So what is the common problem within these schools? Steve Denny, the executive director of accountability for Winton Woods, says it is the schools’ diversity; he says that the more diverse the school is, the harder it is to meet federal requirements. Which makes a lot of sense.
Here’s how it works: for a school to meet federal standards, each demographic student group, or subgroup, must pass the tests. Subgroups are based on several factors including ethnicity, poverty, disability, and limited-English-speaking level of students. Schools that don’t have many of these students have few federal progress goals to meet. But, according to Denny, it only takes a few students in a subgroup to fail for the school and district to fail as well.
Janet Walsh, the district spokesperson for Cincinnati Public, explained that in the 39 schools in the district which failed to meet federal goals, learning disabilities were a factor. She went on to explain that about 5 percent of the students in the district are unable to take the regular state tests due to severe disabilities. Yet, Ohio only allows these schools to give alternative tests to one percent of its students. This means that the other four percent fail the tests.
Jeanine Molock, director of accountability at the Ohio Department of Education said, “Ohio is in a better position than most states. Our story wasn’t as dramatic as most states were reporting.” She explained that part of the reason for this is the fact that Ohio allows its schools to meet federal standards four different ways, which exceeds the chances which other states have.
First, there is the traditional way: if the required numbers of students pass their state tests, as in other states, Ohio schools can meet federal goals. However, if an Ohio school fails that, it can still pass if one of the following goals is met:
• its two-year average for passing grades meets the federal standard,
• or enough students are on a trajectory to pass tests within two years,
• or the percent of students failing declines by 10 percent from the prior year.
But, Molock said that, in spite of this flexibility, Ohio will seek a waiver from federal progress restrictions by February. Those of us who are Ohio teachers will be watching to see if our state gets a waiver, and if so, what exactly that waiver means for our schools.