Eight years after Ohio’s education system ranked fifth-best in the nation, the state continues mired in the low 20’s on the annual Education Week assessment.
Widely viewed as one of the best measures of how a state is performing in comparison to its peers across the country, the report card released Wednesday comes after state leaders eased tougher graduation requirements and amid widespread complaints from school officials about continued state underfunding and charter schools pulling money away.
Ohio's "C" keeps it in the middle of the pack, ranked 22nd among the 50 states and District of Columbia — unchanged from last year.
The annual Quality Counts report by Education Week, a national trade newspaper, ranks states on student achievement, education finances, and several indicators for success including preschool enrollment and graduation rates.
Ohio earned an overall score of 74.8 of a possible 100 points. America as a whole also got a grade of C — like Ohio, essentially unchanged from last year.
“The nation’s grade of C reflects continued struggles with achievement and funding gaps even as post-secondary participation and graduation rates are higher than they were last year,” said Holly Yettick, director of the Education Week Research Center.
Massachusetts finished first in the rankings, with the only B-plus and a score of 86.8, followed by four states earning B grades: New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
Nevada with a grade of D received the nation’s lowest score, 65. New Mexico also earns a D while Mississippi improves its ranking slightly to a D-plus.
"Although the calculation has changed, the fact is in 2010 we were 5th in the country, now we're 22nd," said Stephen Dyer, former state lawmaker is is now an education fellow for the left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio.
"In 2010 we implemented the evidence-based (school-funding) model but never fully funded it. If we had followed through on that promise, we'd certainly be ranked higher."
Chad Aldis, vice president of Ohio Policy and Advocacy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, disagreed. Ohio's 22nd ranking is very consistent with those of recent years, he said, noting that the state has not implemented much education policy lately.
"Folks are trying to say Ohio has fallen but it's not true," he said. "We've always been strong in standards which helped Ohio rank 5th. Now everyone has strong standards."
Looking into Ohio's grades in individual categories, the state got a C-plus in the Chance-for-Success indicator, ranking 28th. In School Finance, Ohio received a C and ranks 20th, and for the K-12 Achievement Index, last updated in the 2016 report, it finishes 25th with a C-minus.
All three grades mirrored the grades of the nation as a whole.
Despite the lackluster grade, state schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said he sees improvement in Ohio schools.
“Ohio has a lot to be proud of and we have some exciting momentum as we start the new year," DeMaria said in a statement. "We’ve raised expectations for what our students must know and be able to do — and in response, we’re seeing increases in achievement across the state. I’m impressed as I visit Ohio’s classrooms and it’s exciting to see the impact of the engaging and productive experiences our schools are providing for students.”
But efforts to raise student performance in Ohio have faced hurdles. In 2014, state lawmakers approved tougher graduation requirements with a promise to prepare students for college and careers, responding in large part to concerns that 40 percent of Ohio high school graduates attending state public colleges and universities needed remedial classes.
New requirements that students score at least 18 of a possible 36 points on seven end-of-course exams or earn a remediation-free score on a college entrance exam to graduate starting with this year with the class of 2018.
But before they took effect, concerns from school superintendents that large numbers of students wouldn't meet the benchmark prompted lawmakers to loosen the requirements for this year’s seniors and possibly the next two graduating classes as well.
They added options critics have called weak for students who didn’t do well on tests to earn a diploma by having good attendance, working a job or performing community service.
Catherine Candisky is a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch.