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Ohioans must change perceptions about education

The old clich\u00E9, "perception is everything," is, unfortunately true.

We read only bad news about education in America. Ohioans read report card information each year, never really understanding what all the ratings mean.

Often the only thing they look to see is if their district is "excellent."

That is the pinnacle all districts strive for, but it is not the whole story.

It's time to change perceptions.

When the ninth grade proficiency was first administered in the early 1990s, it was a standardized test based on multiple choice questions which were drawn from the minimal expectations of learning for grades K-8.

Ohio has come a long way in raising expectations from those early years of statewide testing. Today, state content standards are aligned in curriculum and in testing. This assures increased rigor, with open ended questions, requiring students to respond in their own words, work problems without choices of answers to guide them, and demonstrate the highest level of understanding of which they are capable.

Today, students can achieve levels above basic proficiency.

The 9th grade proficiency will be replaced by the Ohio Graduation Test next year.

It will require students to have high school knowledge through the 10th grade.

Educators and students statewide have worked hard to achieve success with each increase in expectations.

Last month Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction, testified before the state legislature.

She said to them, "Today we have rigorous academic content standards that clearly spell out requirements for every grade level from K-12 in English language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, technology, foreign language and the arts."

She continued that we know education in Ohio is working, "Our accountability system shows us that the investment you have made in education, and the hard work of thousands of educators throughout the state are both paying off."

The proof for Ohio's 1.83 million students is evident. Achievement test scores climbed an average of 13 points in the last five years.

Ohio students have continued to outperform the national average since 1992.

District and building report cards now are based on test scores, attendance and graduation rates, and yearly progress.

The criteria have increased as the federal No Child Left Behind Act is fazed in.

Schools and Districts have scrambled to meet each new requirement in difficult funding circumstances.

The number of districts in Academic Emergency, the lowest designation, has decreased from 35 in 1999-2000 to four in 2003-04.

Of the 608 districts graded in 2004, over half are rated Excellent or Effective.

224 more are in Continuous Improvement.

These are very good indicators of school improvement.

As one superintendent said to me, "You know who cares the most about our report card? Our staff."

All over Ohio, in every district in every category, including those moving into or struggling to improve from Academic Watch, teachers and administrators are working to meet the educational needs of each student, looking for the best practices to implement, and taking professional development courses to improve skills.

As Dr. Zelman said, "These high expectations are the key to ensuring that all students in Ohio are prepared for college, careers, and life."

In my job as an Ohio Board of Education member, representing the 10th District, I learn what is happening at the state level and I visit with superintendents, schools, and teachers to learn what is happening in our school communities. Visiting classrooms I see educators engaging their students in active learning and everyone working hard.

Are there still things to improve?

Of course, in all of life, nothing is ever done. Our high school graduation rates are too low.

More families and communities need to get actively involved in the education of this generation.

Please, change your perception.

Jane Sonenshein is a member of the Ohio State Board of Education, 10th District, which serves southern Ohio.