Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grade inflation in the state of Ohio.

This post is about grade inflation in the state and the broader question of whether the rankings that districts receive on the state report card is truly reflective of the "quality" of the school district. In this context, grade inflation refers to the elevation, over time, of Ohio's School District Rankings and the number of districts receiving top marks from the state. The first thing we need to determine is whether grade inflation is real. Over the last year or so, an increasing number of articles, bloggers and reports seem to think so. Let's start with some statistics.

This was the breakdown in the 2004-2005 school year:

Where 18% of school districts were rated excellent and a combination of 67% were rated as excellent of effective.

Fast forward to 2011 where the chart looks like this:

Where 58% of school districts are now rated excellent or higher and an astounding 93% of school districts are considered effective.

Did Ohio really make all these academic gains or did the state manipulate the report card such that it now provides a distorted view of reality?

Let's look at a few other data points. The first comes to us from the Ohio Board of Regents where they track the success of Ohio graduates who go on to Ohio colleges and see how many of them require remediation - essentially, to retake high school courses when they get to college. If 93% of Ohio's School Districts were effective, you would anticipate this to be a relatively low number.

Unfortunately, it is not. NPR is reporting that 41% of freshman from Ohio High Schools have to take at least one remediation class once they get to college. The report goes on to say that an analysis of Ohio Board of Regents data shows that in nearly 80 high schools rated A or A+, at least half of students who enroll in Ohio public colleges must take remedial math and/or English.

That is an astounding statistic!  Your local high school is rated "Excellent" or even "Excellent with Distinction" and yet, half of its graduates have to essentially retake high school classes in order to be successful in college, yet, this applies to 20% of those districts with that excellent rating.

The Ohio Association of Gifted Children produced a report that was a less subtle about this problem. The report, entitled "Grading on a Curve, the illusion of excellence in Ohio Schools" made the case that grade inflation is taking place and that the state was essentially lying to its citizens about the quality of its schools. Charts such as this one:

compares the number of children scoring "advanced" on the Ohio Achievement Test vs. the number of children scoring advanced on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

Obviously, Ohio is reporting a much higher percentage of children as "Advanced" then what you find on the national test. Of course, while Ohio isn't any better or worse than many other states, the state is using terminology that would seem to imply that it is.

One of the more egregious examples of how Ohio has created an illusion of excellence according to the OAGC report is through the use of "cut scores". A cut score is defined as the passing grade a student must achieve on one of the proficiency tests. The number that gets reported is that percentage of children that have achieved the passing grade, but up until this article, the grade that was considered passing never got any attention. The cut scores for the Ohio Achievement Tests in 2011 are documented in this chart:

So, for example, to receive a passing grade for 6th grade reading, a student must answer 17 out of 49 questions correctly for a total of 35%.  If 75% of the students accomplish that goal, the school or the district will be designated at having met that state standard. To receive a designation of "Advanced" in 5th grade math, a student must receive a score of 73%. The categories, proficient, accelerated and advanced all go into the calculation for the districts performance index.

The OAGC report and the Dispatch reporting  has numerous other examples of why the State Report Card is not a meaningful indicator of school district quality, so much so that the state has decided to take action. The next blog post will cover the new state report card and whether what was done will adequately address the problem.


  1. Looks like proficient is not all that proficient after all. Get rid of the proficient line and make the accelerated line proficient and the advance line accelerated, then you would have meaningful numbers. I would say knowing about 75% of the material would be a proficient score!

  2. So how does Worthington do in the accelerated and advanced lines? That looks like the way to judge proficiency.