Wednesday, January 17, 2001

CPS proficiency rank declines

District ninth-graders slip in new Ohio test results

By Andrea Tortora and Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Fewer ninth-graders in Cincinnati Public Schools passed writing and math sections of the Ohio Ninth-Grade Proficiency test given in October, according to re sults released Tuesday.

Complete state results online:
        Despite gains this year in other sections of the test, Cincinnati fell from tops among the state's eight big urban districts to the middle, behind Toledo, Columbus, Canton and Akron, respectively, in the success of ninth-graders on the October test.

        For most, it was a retest, a chance to pass sections failed earlier. Most students take the test for the first time in the eighth grade.

        A brighter spot for Cincinnati is the 10th-grade results. Scores topped or tied the urban eight districts in all five sections of the test, and improved over last year's results in every subject but writing.

        Across the state, more high school students passed the entire test than the year before. That includes students in all grades who took the test.

        October results show 78 percent of current Ohio high school students have passed all sections of the test. This is up from from 77 percent in 1999. Students have several chances to take the test and must pass all five sections to receive a high school diploma.

        “The good news is that Ohio continues to improve,” said Susan Tave Zelman, superintendent of public instruction.

        ""Over the last five years, there has been a trend for more students to pass all proficiency tests earlier in their high school career. We must continue to target help to the estimated 112,000 high school students, or 22 percent, who have not yet passed these tests.”

        The test is designed to measure what students learned in grades K-8 in reading, writing, math, science and citizenship.

        Educators want the results approached with caution.

        “When you're looking at the students who have to pass the test, every group of students is different. The scores bounce around each year because different groups of students are taking the test,” said Rick Glatfelter, director of research testing and planning for Northwest Local Schools.

        Sycamore ninth-graders scored lower in all areas than last year's test takers. But Sycamore Assistant Superintendent Kevin Boys said what matters most are the cumulative scores which consistently are above state standards.

        “Our district's students continue to do well on the test,” Mr. Boys said. “They continue to surpass Ohio standards for effective school status.”

        Cincinnati's ninth-graders posted gains in reading, citizenship and science scores. Math scores dipped 1 percentage point while writing scores dropped 6 percentage points.

        Kathleen Ware, Cincinnati's associate superintendent, said the results show the effectiveness of the district's renewed efforts in literacy, math and science in ele mentary school.

        She said the drop in writing scores does not worry her because “it is the most volatile” of all five sections when it comes to scoring.

        “We now have standards in place so teachers and students know what is expected,” Ms. Ware said. “And we have core courses and common exams.”

        Last month, a governor-appointed panel recommended Ohio should overhaul its proficiency testing system and provide intense intervention programs for students who fall behind.

        Recommendations include replacing the proficiency tests with achievement tests aligned with school curriculums.

        Most students who took this test are ninth-graders and above who have failed to pass one or more sections of the test, said LeeAnne Rogers, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education. Others were students who moved from out-of-state.

        Northwest's Mr. Glatfelter said, “The seniors who took the tests in the fall did better than we expected, but we still have some students who failed.” Seniors get three chances to take the test their senior year.

        “We're pleased with the results, but we know we still have a lot of work to do to get the rest of the kids through the test,” Mr. Glatfelter said. “Kids are working hard. Teachers are working hard. Tutors are working hard.”

        At Lebanon High School in Warren County, 83 percent of students taking the ninth-grade proficiency test again in October passed the writing portion. And 71 percent passed the reading portion, said Doris Nell, English department chairwoman and district instructional leader.

        Those numbers are in addition to the students who already passed portions of the test.

        “I feel good about these numbers,” Ms. Nell said. “These youngsters had problems with their skills... some of these kids have to work really hard.”

        Current eighth-graders will not take the ninth-grade proficiency exam this spring. Instead, they will be the first class to take the new Ohio Graduation Test in March 2003 when they are sophomores. They must pass that test to graduate.

        “I don't know a district around that is not focusing the lion's share of their curriculum development and effort toward that new test,” said Mr. Boys. “It's a much more rigorous test, and the format itself is more complicated.“


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