Ohio Kids Are Doing Better at Common Core Tests (but Only Because Ohio Defines “Better” Creatively)

Will Ohio’s creative interpretation of test scores undermine the Common Core?


The promise of the Common Core to provide nationwide learning standards for kids from kindergarten through high school has shriveled yet again, this time as a result of Ohio’s decision to interpret its test results differently than other states. As the New York Times reported, Ohio officials recently claimed that two-thirds of their students had hit grade-level benchmarks in reading and math. Sounds pretty encouraging? But alas, the article says,

[S]imilar scores on the same tests meant something quite different in Illinois, where education officials said only about a third of students were on track. And in Massachusetts, typically one of the strongest academic performers, the state said about half of the students who took the same tests as Ohio’s children met expectations.

It all came down to the different labels each state used to describe the exact same scores on the same tests.

In short, Ohio is interpreting its assessment scores differently, and far more generously, than other states. So why does this matter?

Well, a central goal of the Common Core was not just to universalize K-12 academic standards, but to provide a sort of state-by-state legend to student achievement, so that any interested observer could compare scores of students in say, Florida, next to those in New Hampshire and get a rough sense of how students were doing relative to one another in those states. Ohio’s creative spinning of its test scores—placing students who “approached expectations” in the same category as those who met or exceeded them—undermines this objective big time.

Before the establishment of the Common Core standards earlier this decade, states gave their own exams and established their own benchmarks, some laughably easy. Common Core was designed to raise expectations, and to establish both uniform standards and results—goals that are threatened by Ohio’s move. For, bellwether state that it is, Ohio will likely inspire other states to adopt similar score-fudging tactics, which would prove a devastating setback, or death blow, to the already-imperiled Common Core. As the Washington Post wrote:

The result, Common Core opponents and even some boosters agree, is another step toward a return to the kind of gamesmanship with statistics—and exaggerated sense of student achievement—that the program was designed to eradicate.

If the benchmarks shift from state to state and district to district, that all-important ideal of “meeting expectations” loses meaning, and the sliding scale turns into a slippery slope. Already in California and North Carolina, according to the Times, “state officials reporting headline results lumped together groups of students who either passed or nearly passed the tests.”

If more of these shenanigans ensue, will Common Core survive?