Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Background on Ohio's proficiency program

        QUESTION: What are proficiency tests?

        ANSWER: Ohio Proficiency Tests (given to all fourth-, sixth-, ninth- and 12th-graders) are criterion-referenced tests that measure how students fare in five areas: math, science, writing, reading and citizenship. Criterion-referenced tests are based on performance against a set standard rather than against a typical student or a sampling of students.

        Q: Why are proficiency tests considered important?

        A: Ohio's public school districts use the results as part of an overall rating for each district on its report card from the Ohio Department of Education. Each district is rated on how it fares in 27 areas, including scores on proficiency tests.

        Q: When did proficiency tests begin?

        A: The ninth- and 12th-grade tests were mandated in 1987 by the Ohio Legislature. The Legislature wanted to require all graduates to have minimum demonstration of skills in certain subjects. The bill stipulated that anyone graduating after Sept. 15, 1993, would be held accountable and therefore had to pass the ninth-grade proficiency test.

        The ninth-grade test was first administered in November 1990 in the areas of writing, reading, math and citizenship. In 1994, 12th-grade tests were administered in those same areas. In 1995, fourth-grade tests began in those same areas. In 1996, sixth-graders began taking tests in reading, writing, math, citizenship with the area of science added. That year science was added to the tests for fourth, ninth and 12th grades, too.

        Q: What is the purpose of the report cards?

        A: To provide parents and community members with information about how well their schools are doing, where they are succeeding and where there is room for improvement.

        Q: When were the first official report cards distributed?

A: The first “official” report cards were distributed in February 2000, following two “trial run” report cards issued in 1998 and 1999. The 2000 report cards included a performance accountability ranking based on 1998-99 student performance on 27 minimum performance standards set by the Ohio General Assembly.

        Q: How are districts rated?

A: A district is assigned one of four ratings:

        • Effective (26 or more standards met).

        • Continuous Improvement (14-25 standards met).

        • Academic watch (9-13 standards met).

        • Academic emergency (8 or fewer standards met).

        Q: What happens to districts that do not rate effective?

A: Districts ranked continuous improvement must develop and put into action a three-year Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP), meet minimum performance targets annually and reach the effective category within five years.

        Districts on academic watch or academic emergency must develop and put into action a three-year CIP that analyzes why the district failed to meet standards that were not achieved; to specify strategies and resources that address problem(s).

        Districts rated emergency must move to a watch status within five years. Those in watch status must move to continuous improvement within three years.

        Districts that do not create or follow a continuous improvement plan or don't improve on schedule could face a state intervention and could forfeit some local control. Intervention could include oversight and technical assistance by a school improvement guidance council. The members of that council would be appointed by the state superintendent following recommendations by the local school board and community input.

        Districts ranked effective are excluded from the requirement to develop a Continuous Improvement Plan.

        Q: Are the tests changing?

A: Senate Bill 55 phases out the Ohio Ninth-Grade Proficiency Tests in favor of the new Ohio Graduation Test beginning with the class of 2005.

        Beginning with the 2001-02 school year, the Fourth-Grade Guarantee prohibits any school district from promoting to fifth grade a student who has not passed the reading section of the fourth-grade proficiency test, unless the student is a child with a disability whose Individual Education Plan (IEP) excused him or her from taking the test or the student's principal and reading teacher agree the student is academically prepared, as defined in the district's promotion policy for fifth grade.
        Source: Ohio Department of Education


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