Estimates in Ohio suggest that at the current rate of progress, black fifth-graders will be reading on par with white fifth-graders in the year 2315. Third-graders they will start to pass reading exams at the same rate in 2102.
Achievement gaps exist beginning in kindergarten. Poor students, black students, Latino students and those with special needs often enter school already behind.
Ohio has pledged to cut the gap in passing rates in half by 2017 and will begin grading schools on how quickly graduation rates and passing rates on state exams amongst different groups become equal.
“We have seen positive movement. But the sense of urgency is ‘if we don’t move it quicker, we’re not going to close it.’ And the gap has been around for 30-plus years,” said Adrian Allison, who oversees accountability and improvement at the Ohio Department of Education.
Under the proposed changes by the Ohio Department of Education schools will be rated by whether they meet a pass rate and graduation rate target and whether the gap between disadvantaged students and others has reduced.
“These gaps have huge consequences for the students on the wrong side of them. Students who do not receive a good education are far less likely to be employed. They are far more likely to be incarcerated or receiving public assistance. They are far less likely to vote. The list goes on and on,” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust
Progress made on narrowing the achievement gap will make up 25% of a schools overall grade under the proposed changes and may be published on school report cards pending agreement from the US Department of Education and the Ohio General Assembly.
One unpleasant concern with the focus on the narrowing of achievement gaps is that an improvement in test scores from white children will actively hurt schools and teachers have already said that similar rankings have ‘forced them to cheat’ on exams. A school raising the graduation rate of both groups by 5% hasn’t narrowed the gap but should still be heartily applauded, yet it will be ranked lower than a school whose minority students improve by 5% while the performance of white students stagnates.
Under the proposed system, schools may have a vested interest in the stagnation of their white students to allow the performance rates of minorities to catch up. While most may say that this won’t happen, experience with test rankings shows that teachers and administrators can feel compelled to manipulate the testing environment.