Published Online: June 16, 1999
Published in Print: June 16, 1999, as State Journal

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Revisions retreat

Citing William Graham Sumner, a 19th century sociologist who wrote that "things perceived to be real are real in their consequences," Ohio Sen. Eugene J. Watts said the last thing he wants is for Buckeye State residents to perceive that state lawmakers are somehow getting cold feet over high academic standards.

That's why the architect of the state's proficiency-testing system announced recently that he was backing away from a plan to build a lower "retention" score into the state's "4th Grade Reading Guarantee."

A 1997 law, set for full implementation in the spring of 2002, would prevent 4th graders from advancing to the 5th grade if they failed to score at the "proficient" level or above on the state reading test.

Various state officials, including Mr. Watts, contend that by using the current high standard for 4th grade reading proficiency, the state could unfairly hold back students who may require only basic remedial help to succeed in the 5th grade. In light of that concern, Mr. Watts, a Republican, indicated last month that he planned to introduce legislation that would authorize the state board of education to set a separate, lower "retention" score to coexist with the current "proficient" and "advanced" levels on the 4th grade reading test.

But facing criticism that the proposal appeared to advocate lower standards, Mr. Watts said in a June 2 statement that his "trial balloon exploded on liftoff" and that the legislature intended to "maintain the one high standard" for 4th grade reading.

"We should not and I shall not allow even that perception of lowering standards to continue," Mr. Watts added. "We give 4th graders an eraser on the pencil to eliminate incorrect answers. That's a good practice for teachers and legislators."

The results of this year's 4th grade reading assessment will be released as early as June 18. If the retention requirement had been in place last year, 40 percent of Ohio's 4th graders would have had to repeat the grade.

Regardless of Mr. Watts' decision, the state education department is still trying to pinpoint what score could be used fairly as a cutoff, said Lee Ann Rogers, a spokeswoman for the department.

"We're still conducting a study to find out where that score should be," she said. "The 4th grade test was never meant to decide retention."

--Jessica L. Sandham jsandham@epe.org

Vol. 18, Issue 40, Page 12

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