A new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looks beyond high school graduation rates and state test scores to find that the majority of high school graduates in Ohio are not ready to take the next steps to either college or a career.
Ohio has a serious readiness problem, the report says.
According to the study, 84 percent of class of 2017 graduated “on time” – four years after entering ninth grade – with rates topping 90 percent in most school districts. Lofty rates leave the impression that the vast majority of students are ready to take their next steps in life, it says.
However, using publicly available data to gauge the readiness of the graduates, it found that only:
- 26 percent meet college remediation-free benchmarks on the ACT or SAT
- 5 percent earn industry-recognized credentials while in high school
- 13 percent achieve passing scores on at least one AP exam
- 21 percent earn college credits via dual enrollment
Fordham is an Ohio-based non-profit that promotes educational excellence for all children – including standards-based accountability. Chad Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy, said the report also looked at readiness on a regional and county level, the first time anyone has done so.
“There’s been a lot of debate in Ohio about where are students are,” Aldis said. “Whether, when they leave, they’re ready for what comes next – college or workforce. Employers have said graduates don’t have the skills they need. When you unpack the data – not use just state test scores or graduation rates – and look for other measures, this the result.”
Aldis said they weren’t sure what they would find, but two results surprised him. One was the low number of students earning industry-recognized credentials, especially with technical competency being so important these days.
“Many young people need viable pathways to rewarding careers that don’t meander through two- or four-year college programs,” the report says. “One way to bolster workplace advancement is to encourage students to earn in-demand credentials that verify the attainment of technical skills in fields such as construction, healthcare, and information technology. Despite their value to both employees and employers, very few Ohio students earn credentials prior to graduating high school.”
The other was that only about a quarter of students are remediation-free.
“Three in five Ohio students do in fact enroll in two- or four-year colleges shortly after graduation,” the study notes. “But far fewer are adequately prepared for the rigors of college-level coursework. …(B)arely a quarter of students in recent Ohio graduating classes are “college ready,” as indicated by meeting the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s remediation-free benchmarks on the ACT or SAT exams.”
Fordham also found readiness gaps in student subgroups:
Students from all backgrounds struggle to meet readiness targets in Ohio, but the picture becomes even more troubling when data are disaggregated by race. For instance, although 30 percent of white students met readiness benchmarks on the ACT or SAT in the class of 2017, just 6 percent of black students did so.
The report developed a “readiness” score and ranked all 88 counties. Medina, Hancock, Wayne and then Wood County, all in the Northwest region, produced the most ready graduates. Belmont, Meigs, E-schools and Morgan, in the Southwest region (except for the E-schools), were ranked last.
The findings result in “unsatisfactory college-completion rates as well as labor-market woes for young people lacking post-secondary degrees and/or certifications,” the report concludes.
Fordham makes some recommendations for state legislators: maintain rigorous standards and accountability, ensure that the skills associated with various credentials are closely tied to local
industry demands, ensure dual enrollment students are mastering true, college-level material, and use incentives to drive performance.
Fordham also recommends strengthening information and reporting systems. The report contains more data on college readiness as opposed to career readiness. Aldis would like to see data on employment rates and wages after students leave industry training programs.
“We struggled with this,” Aldis said. “The technical training aspects and having people go directly into the workforce is important, but there’s less data available for people who want to go directly into the workforce.”
While the report takes a ‘big picture’ look at counties and regions, Aldis hopes parents will review the findings and then look at their local schools.
“Parents aren’t concerned about the county, but about Johnny and whether he’s ready for after graduation,” he says. “There is the potential for assuming that because your son or daughter is getting good grades that they’re ready for college courses. In general, (the report) is a little bit of an impetus for parents to start asking questions and make sure their son or daughter is where they think they are.”
Aldis says businesses will probably not be surprised by the findings, but that county and regional information should be helpful.
“Employers should look where they operate and where they get their employees and ask, ‘what does this mean for our efforts and our ability to grow,'” he says. Aldis believes businesses are in a unique position to partner with schools and help smooth the transition for students who want to go directly into the workforce.
But there is further cause for concern, Aldis explains, with the recent efforts to walk-back accountability measures in graduation requirements, school report cards and Ohio’s academic distress commissions.
“It’s hard to get people to raise to a higher level if, whenever it would matter, those requirements are then ratcheted back,” he warns. “States that have raised the bar have seen tremendous progress form their students. Ohio has done some of the right things but then has scaled them back as consequences come into play. There is still a lot of work to do to make sure students are prepared for success.”
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