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Ohio Board Approves New Minimum Standards

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The Ohio State Board of Education last week adopted a new set of "minimum standards" that, state officials say, focus more on outcomes for students than on rigid specifications for course content and school facilities.

"We believe the standards provide for a general education of high quality and provide for local decision making in some areas," said Irene G. Bandy, assistant state superintendent of public instruction. "The board was looking more at what happens to the student as he or she goes through the 13 years of the educational process."

The new standards include:

A "competency-based" program in each district. Districts will be required to administer competency tests in reading, English composition, and mathematics to each student once in the grades 1-4, once in grades 5-8, and once in high school.

Districts will be required to provide extra help to students who do not meet locally determined cutoff scores. The selection of tests, cutoff points, and remedial techniques will be left to local districts' discretion.

Development, at the district level, of a cohesive curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Eighteen required course units for high-school graduation, compared with the present 17 units. A second year of mathematics will be required.

A "strong recommendation" from the state board that students in grades 7 and 8 receive some instruction in computer science and have access to computer equipment.

Addition of guidance services in elementary schools.

A relaxation of strict rules governing schools' physical facilities and equipment. "We will still, by standard and bylaw, ensure that facilities give a safe and healthful environment," Ms. Bandy said.

New Standards

Development of the new standards began about 30 months ago, when state officials determined that regulations enacted in 1968 and 1970 were outmoded, Ms. Bandy said. A 34-member panel including representatives of several interest groups advised the board and held several public hearings on the proposed standards, she said.

State officials believe that school districts can meet most of the standards, which will be phased in over several years, by "redirecting existing resources," Ms. Bandy said. The requirement for remedial help could cost an additional $75 million, she added, but will for now be a local responsibility.

The new standards set out two sets of rules for nonpublic schools. Private schools seeking a state charter must meet standards similar to those for public schools. Schools that are not seeking charters "because of truly held religious beliefs" are required to comply only with broad rules concerning the length of the school year, attendance reports, safety, and subjects to be taught. Some fundamentalist schools objected strenuously to any regulations, while citizens' and educators' groups insisted that some rules were necessary to enforce the compulsory-attendance law.

The state's largest teachers' organization, the Ohio Education Association (oea), has registered strong objections to the new standards, with which schools must comply in order to be chartered by the state.

"The association feels that the current funding problems being experienced in Ohio led to a watering-down of standards from previous drafts and, in some cases from the standards now on the books," said William R. Martin, the oea's director of communications.

Mr. Martin said a 1980 draft of the new standards "was a much better base," requiring additional courses in business, personal finance, per-sonal development, American government, and economics for graduation. He also objected to a reduction in the number of foreign-language classes districts are required to offer, to a cut in the laboratory hours required for science courses, and to a rule permitting districts to offer kindergarten on alternate days, rather than every day.

"We're also concerned that the standards for the pupil-teacher ratio of 25-1 [in kindergarten through grade 4] will not go into effect until 1986," Mr. Martin said. "That's one of the prime examples of where funding considerations led to compromises."

The oea, which has 79,300 members, "intends to watch for proposals from school boards who will want to cut back on present programs under the guise of meeting the new standards."

"There's no state funding role provided, so the locals are going to have to take funds from other programs to pay for cost of intervention. It doesn't make much sense to cut back on other programs to meet standards on minimum competency. Once you find problems, you have to be able to do something about them.

"The local options are no problem if the districts have the money," he added. "But generally, we don't think they go far enough."

Carla J. Edlefson, executive director of the Citizens Council for Ohio Schools, a nonprofit group, called the lack of clear procedures for evaluating schools "very disturbing."

The new standards do not call specifically for on-site inspections," she noted. "It's not clear how they're going to evaluate. We testified in favor of having [inspections] announced ahead of time and giving citizens an opportunity to meet with the inspectors."

Despite her contention that the new standards are "very vague," Ms. Edlefson said they may help preserve academic emphasis as funds grow scarcer.

"I've heard from parents that some districts are laying off language teachers and retaining 9th-grade football coaches," she said. "So these standards may be useful."

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