Last week, several of my Fordham colleagues published a fantastic fifty-state review of accountability systems and how they impact high achievers. Lamentably, they found that most states do almost nothing to hold schools accountable for the progress of their most able pupils. There are several reasons for this neglect, as the report’s foreword discusses; but with states now revamping their school report cards under the new federal education law, they have a great chance to bolster accountability for their high-achieving students.
How did Ohio fare? We’re pleased to report that the Buckeye State is a national leader in accounting for the outcomes of high-achieving students. As the Fordham study points out, Ohio accomplishes this in three important ways. First, to rate schools, the state relies heavily on the performance index. This measure gives schools additional credit when students reach advanced levels on state exams, encouraging them to teach to all learners and not just those on the cusp of proficiency. Second, Ohio utilizes a robust value-added measure that expects schools to contribute to all students’ academic growth, including high achievers (and regardless of whether they come from low- or higher-income backgrounds). Third, state report cards include results for gifted students—a feature that only four other states have worked into their accountability systems. In sum, Ohio earns three out of three stars on accountability for high flyers, a feat matched by only two other states, Arkansas and Oregon. (They both earned three out of four stars, having been eligible for four stars because they award “summative” school ratings, a policy that Ohio does not currently feature.)
Three cheers to Ohio policy makers for shining much-needed light on the outcomes of its top students. As the state transitions to post-NCLB accountability, it should stay the course on the policies discussed above. Naturally, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels; Ohio can and should do more. Here are a few starter ideas.
- We need more research. What types of gifted programs are most effective? What are the post-secondary outcomes of our most able kids—are they earning college degrees and are some attending prestigious universities, as one might hope? Having firmer answers to questions such as these would reveal strengths and weaknesses, ultimately helping identify ways to improve our policies and practices.
- State policy should empower the families of high-achieving students, especially those who are dissatisfied with their current schooling arrangements. Among other things, this could include support for schools with a special focus on high-achieving or gifted students (akin to the “exam schools” that Checker Finn and Jessica Hockett have written about). Per House Bill 64, Ohio is currently studying whether to start sixteen regional, gifted-focused charter schools. Let’s hope these schools become a reality.
- Lastly, though not necessarily a policy initiative per se, we can always do more to celebrate the success of students who are going above and beyond. This could include cheering on Ohio’s Mathletes, geography and spelling bees competitors, mock trial teams, and top musicians. We regularly lavish praise on our best athletes; why not extend that treatment to our most studious and motivated pupils?
Ohio is a national leader in incorporating high achievers into school report cards. We should take pride in that because accountability for results is a key way to drive improvement. As they should, state policy makers will continue to debate policy around gifted and talented education—the gifted operating standards, for example, have become a hot topic in the past year. While the details of these standards are important to iron out, students and their outcomes should stay at the center. When it comes to lifting up high achievers, Ohio has made a great start. Now it’s time to push the envelope even further.