Monday, May 24, 2004

New Ohio exams could make high
school diploma harder to get

The Associated Press

DAYTON - Ohio's new high school graduation tests could end up denying diplomas to many students, keeping them from attending college and getting good jobs, according to a newspaper review.

As the Ohio Department of Education overhauls standardized testing to meet new state and federal laws, it ordered test writers to make some questions more difficult so the brightest students get higher scores and some are guaranteed to fail, the Dayton Daily News reported on Sunday.

Beginning next spring, sophomores must pass the new Ohio Graduation Test in five subjects if they're to graduate on time in 2007. The new test requires achievement at two grade levels above current graduation exams, which means thousands could fail, the newspaper said.

Three-quarters of sophomores flunked a sample version last year, and nearly one-third failed this spring after the department shortened the test and lowered the recommended score for passing.

Three years ago, state lawmakers required replacing all proficiency tests by 2006 with 15 new tests in third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and 10th grades. Then Ohio had to modify those laws to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The federal law demands every student meet proficiency standards by 2012. Schools could be sanctioned or lose federal money based on testing.

The General Accounting Office estimated last year that 45 states will spend about $3.9 billion by 2008 to develop or revise more than 430 tests. Ohio's testing budget is $75 million, four times the $18 million spent five years ago.

The changes already are straining the seven companies that control 85 percent of the test-writing market nationwide, the newspaper said.

Scoring mistakes will become more common as states rush to meet deadlines, said W. James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA who ran his own testing company.

"But scoring mistakes can be corrected," he said. "What worries me more is the harm that will be done to children because of lousy tests."

Some questions are based on outdated science, so some plausible answers are marked incorrect, the newspaper said.

And testing companies are trying to program computers to score essay questions to save money. A Dayton Daily News reporter composed a deliberately nonsensical essay that one company's program awarded a perfect score and declared "effective writing."

The state adjusts the difficulty of questions so that most students get average scores and a small number get the very highest and very lowest. The idea was to identify struggling students and get them extra help.

"We put this in our contracts, that we want a test that challenges strong readers, and weaker readers don't bow out right away," said Mitchell Chester, the Education Department's assistant superintendent who oversees the state's testing programs.

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