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Arkansas and Ohio’s score reports raise questions for parents

UPDATED 10/14/15:

Last night, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key clarified the state’s announcement about their performance levels, noting that the original statement “left a misleading impression that Arkansas was backing away from high standards.” Click here to read Key’s full statement, in which he shares that it was an error to describe Level 3 as reflecting students being ‘on track for college and career readiness.”

We applaud Key’s correction. With it, Arkansas has reaffirmed its commitment to high expectations for all students and committed to continuing the outstanding work it has already done to ensure that all students are prepared for life after high school.

UPDATED 10/12/15:

Last week, Arkansas become the second state to walk back from setting high proficiency levels for their students. Like Ohio, Arkansas announced that students scoring at levels 3 and above are considered on track for college and career readiness – differing from PARCC’s definition of proficiency, which is set at a level 4.

According to Arkansas, more than half of high school students who took the PARCC exam are proficient in math and English. But PARCC would consider that percentage to be significantly lower (less than one-third of students proficient). Like Ohio’s decision, the decision by Arkansas to set proficiency lower for their students undermines the promise of ensuring that all students are prepared for life after high school.

via Arkansas Department of Education


We encourage Arkansas parents to demand an honest account of how their students are progressing academically – not one that makes political sense for Arkansas policymakers.

See our original memo on Ohio’s score report below.

Buckeye State Report Raises Questions for Parents

On September 16, 2015, Karen Nussle, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success, issued the following memo on Ohio’s definition of student proficiency:

Ohio this week became the first PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) state in the country to release preliminary student test results measuring the Ohio’s Learning Standards, which are based on the Common Core State Standards.

That the number of students deemed proficient on the tests was lower than previous years is no surprise. Common Core State Standards are, after all, considerably more rigorous than previous K-12 standards. But what parents should pay attention to is the percentage of students determined by the state to be proficient under the new assessments.

Proficiency as defined by the Ohio State Board of Education is inconsistent with how proficiency is defined by both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card.

This discrepancy should give pause to parents, community leaders and policy makers who expect transparency in Ohio’s transition to higher standards and new tests.

Who’s Looking Out for Students?

According to the state, more than half of Ohio students who took the PARCC exam are now officially proficient in math and English. Both PARCC and NAEP, however, would consider that percentage to be significantly lower. The discrepancy suggests that Ohio has set the proficiency bar too low and undermines the promise of ensuring kids are on track for college and career.



For the past five years, since Ohio first adopted Common Core State Standards, the state has been engaged in a very difficult transition to not only bring transparency and honesty to the process of reporting student achievement, but also to raising the bar in order to ensure kids were prepared for the next step after high school.

This herculean effort was needed because in past years, Ohio’s Honesty Gap – that is, the difference between proficiency rates reported by state tests and those on the NAEP – was among the most pronounced in the country.

By expanding the definition of proficiency to include students that are less-than-proficient, it appears the state is regressing. “I’m trying to understand how these [proficiency rates] are raising expectation,” said Sarah Fowler, a member of the state board of education. There has been no explanation as to why this decision was made, but we can speculate that it was so more students would score “proficient” on paper, and not because they truly earned that designation. We encourage Ohioans to ask these questions.

For further insight, read this post from the Fordham Institute’s Ohio Gadfly.

Local Control Still Needs to be Honest and Transparent

We very much support Ohio’s ability to make these decisions for themselves without intrusion by the Federal government or other national entities. These decisions need to be made in Ohio by Ohioans.

But at the same time, Ohio parents deserve an honest assessment of student proficiency. ‘Local control’ cannot become a fig leaf that covers up a dumbing down of the system in order to make policy makers look good at the expense of kids.

At this critical time of transition, parents deserve transparency. And they deserve the truth.  They should demand it in Ohio.

About the Collaborative for Student Success

At our core, we believe leaders at all levels have a role to play in ensuring success for K-12 students. From ensuring schools and teachers are equipped with the best materials to spotlighting the innovative and bold ways federal recovery dollars are being used to drive needed changes, the Collaborative for Student Success aims to inform and amplify policies making a difference for students and families.

To recover from the most disruptive event in the history of American public schools, states and districts are leveraging unprecedented resources to make sure classrooms are safe for learning, providing students and teachers with the high-quality instructional materials they deserve, and are rethinking how best to measure learning so supports are targeted where they’re needed most. 

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