Ohio: Exit exam will test college readiness

Ohio will replace its high-school graduation test with a tougher college-readiness exam and end-of-course tests, reports the Columbus Dispatch.

The current graduation test asks for 10th-grade skills. Forty-two percent of first-year college students in the state require remedial coursework.

The new college- and career-readiness test has not been developed. There’s “talk of using the ACT,” which would be provided free of charge, reports the Dispatch. End-of-course exams will be required in English I, II and III, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, biology, physical science, American history and American government. Test grades will count as a portion of the grade for the course.

So what happens when the failure rate soars? And what about Ohio students who aren’t prepping for college but want a high school diploma to qualify for an apprenticeship or the military?

Credit recovery is a scam

Credit recovery programs are a scam, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

Universal “college and career readiness,” unless far more carefully defined and monitored than anyone has done so far, is just as fraud-inducing a K-12 goal as “universal proficiency by 2014” was for No Child Left Behind.

Credit recovery is driven by the desire to give people a second chance, “our obsession with ‘graduation rates,’ our fixation on ‘universal college and career readiness,’ and our unwillingness to acknowledge that anybody might actually be a ‘failure’ (and pay the price),” Finn writes.

Whether students are given credits for sitting in class, pleasing a teacher or — more likely — completing a series of worksheets and a test, there are strong incentives to pass students, Finn writes.

. . . who sets the passing score and determines whether the exam-taker meets it? Once again, school districts, private firms, and even states face powerful incentives (as with “proficiency” under NCLB) to set their standards at levels that lots of young people will meet, whether or not that has anything to do with “mastery.” In today’s America, those incentives are stronger than the impulse to demand bona fide “readiness” for colleges and careers.

Common Core Standards, which will come with new assessments for English Language Arts and math, could set a real standard for college and career readiness, Finn writes. So could high-quality end-of-course exams. But  the pressure will be intense to lower the bar.

That would, however, be a bad thing, not just for the integrity of the education system and America’s international competitiveness but also for the young people themselves. Today’s foremost objection to “credit recovery” is not the second-chance opportunity but the painful reality that getting credit in this fashion does not denote true mastery and that colleges and employers won’t honor it any more than the G.E.D., maybe less.

I think the only alternative is to create two or three levels of high school diploma:  Brittany graduates with an academic diploma and honors in math, chemistry and physics, while Biff earns a basic diploma and a woodworking certificate.

Virtual quality

We need better ways to ensure quality virtual learning, writes Bill Tucker on The Quick and the Ed.

Accreditation has proven to be too weak, he writes. His solution is to give public funding only to education providers that show results.

Let new providers into the system — at the course level — but pay them on a performance basis, instead of attendance (this is how publicly-run Florida Virtual School, the country’s largest program, is funded). You only get public funds when a student succeeds and passes the course. As an incentive to serve all students, funding is weighted for disadvantaged and special needs students. And, since providers are putting their funds at risk and no longer getting a guaranteed amount of funding based on enrollment, the amount offered is slightly larger.

To stop providers from passing students who haven’t learned anything, Tucker suggests end-of-course tests offered frequently and using online formats. “Where possible, especially in math, use data systems to track how students do in the next course sequence.”

If there’s no exam or course sequence, require providers to “digitally capture and store student work, discussions, products, and actual test performances. Providers would be subject to periodic audits, with severe penalties imposed if there was a mismatch between student work/performance and course passage.”

Finally, here’s my favorite idea, and it hits on one of the most pressing barriers to college completion: remediation. If higher education wants to play, start in the bridge and transition courses, particularly in math, that are the gateways out of remediation. If a student passes your courses, then that means something — the school or ideally, system, must certify him/her eligible for credit-bearing work. Moreover, the higher education institution must keep data and demonstrate that those students perform on par in the next credit-bearing course sequence.

Community College Dean calls for an end to granting credits based on seat time. He also writes about the mutability of pass rates.

II Doesn’t Always = II

Algebra II Doesn’t Always = II, reports the Washington Post.  To prepare students for college and for technical careers, 20 states and the District of Columbia now require students to take advanced algebra. But the course content and standards vary significantly from school to school:  One school’s Algebra II is another school’s Remedial Math.

“I want to make sure that if a student takes a course, it’s really a significant course, not a watered-down version,” said Ronald A. Peiffer, Maryland deputy state superintendent for academic policy.

Peiffer said that when the state made Algebra I a graduation requirement in the early 1990s, many schools began offering two versions, the traditional course and one some teachers called “baby algebra.” The state tried to rectify the disparity later, mandating an end-of-course graduation test for Algebra I that students are expected to pass to receive a diploma.

Ninety percent of Virginia’s Algebra II students passed the end-of-course Standards of Learning exam. Students need the course for an advanced diploma, but skip it if they’re content with a regular diploma.

Achieve worked with a group of states to design a national end-of-course Algebra II exam with both open-ended and multiple-choice questions.  It was tried last year in a dozen states. “In some states, only one in five students passed,” the Post reports.