An 'educational disaster' is rocking kids in Columbus, rest of Ohio, researcher says

Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank based in Columbus.

The pandemic knocked Ohio students off-track academically — and off-track is where tens of thousands of them remain today.

The latest batch of state test results shows that just 49% of young Ohioans passed the high school algebra test in spring 2022, compared with 61% prior to the pandemic. Large math declines are visible in other grades, and reading scores, too, fell below pre-pandemic levels.

More:How did school districts fare on Ohio report cards? Columbus scores low; suburbans higher

More:Find your school's state report card and understand how to read it

Results are even more troubling in Ohio’s urban areas.

In Columbus City Schools, just 13% of students reached proficiency on their algebra exam. Across all state tests, only 28% in Columbus scored proficient or above.

Student achievement is also alarmingly low in Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo, where roughly one in four students passed their state exams.

Without swift and effective intervention, today’s students will bear the long-term consequences of this educational disaster. They’ll enter adulthood lacking the numeracy and literacy skills necessary for success after high school.

It is a loss not only for our rising generation but a source of peril for the state’s future as well.

What to do?

State leaders should set expectations for a faster academic recovery.

Right now, there’s too little urgency in getting students up to speed in core academic subjects. To give those efforts a kick in the pants, the governor and legislators should declare a goal for full recovery in all grades and subjects within the next few years. Without strong leadership and a clear target, complacency could take hold and the pandemic learning losses could be allowed to be the new normal.

More:How to submit guest opinion columns to the Columbus Dispatch

Ohio schools must ensure that students receive effective learning supports.

This includes more instructional time. One possibility is high-dosage tutoring, which research indicates significantly boosts achievement. Done properly, such tutoring is no mere “homework help” but rather intensive small group or one-on-one instruction that occurs at least three days a week with the same tutor.

More:Student reading scores dropped in pandemic. Here's what's being done to improve skills

Another approach is to extend learning time, whether via summer school, extra time in the school day, and even a longer year. Such interventions aren’t cheap but Ohio schools are flush with $6.7 billion in federal relief funds, most of which remains unspent.

Students read a book together during their school's summer learning program.
Students read a book together during their school's summer learning program.

Parents, communities — and state officials — should keep a close eye on spending and voice concerns if schools aren’t using these dollars on interventions such as these and other academically driven initiatives (e.g., high-quality curricula or merit pay).

Schools need to engage parents stronger than ever before.

This begins with honesty about where a child stands academically.

This autumn, educators should carefully review last spring’s state test results with parents. For children needing extra help, they should work with parents to craft an intervention plan; and throughout the year, there ought to be regular communication about a child’s progress.

More:Appeal: Ohio's children are not learning to read. Adults must move beyond division to help.

Schools can also help families find supplemental resources. One way is to provide information about Ohio’s new enrichment accounts, which offer extra dollars to low-income parents seeking out-of-school opportunities for their son or daughter.

What schools shouldn’t be doing is hiding the ball.

It’s not acceptable to slide state testing results into backpacks — never to be seen again — or to send home rosy report cards with A’s and B’s when students are struggling. No one cares more about a child’s success than his or her parents. Making sure that families are engaged and informed will be key as Ohio seeks to recover lost ground.

Ohio needs to get back to the basics, with academic excellence and parent empowerment at the heart of its education initiatives. Due to the pandemic, students have paid dearly and many remain off-track in math and reading. It’s time we give them back their lost year of learning — and much more.

Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank based in Columbus.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Opinion: Low state test scores show effect of pandemic learning loss