New Benchmarks, Raised Standards

As college acceptance standards become more rigorous, teachers at every level stress the same thing: Parents need to be involved from the very beginning.

Remember when it was enough in kindergarten to know your ABC’s and be able to share the crayons? Or when probability and statistics were upper-level high school math classes? Things have changed. These days, kids are reading sight words and simple sentences by the end of kindergarten. They’re learning multiplication tables in the second and third grades, and they’re calculating probabilities before middle school.

Kids are learning far more at younger ages than ever before — a phenomenon that educators respond to differently. Cathy Rosemary, associate professor at John Carroll University in the department of education and allied studies, doesn’t believe that the overall benchmarks have changed much over the past 20 to 30 years, but she’s not surprised that more kids are reading at younger ages. “More parents are in the know,” she says, “and expose their children to more experiences in their world. When both parents work, kids see that learning is important along with going further in learning. Kids do more traveling with their families — both national and international. There’s a wealth of information available, and kids pick it up.” Rosemary adds that a reasonable long-term reading benchmark is for kids to be proficient at or above a first-grade level by the end of the first grade.

State standards and proficiency tests, along with the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT), have pushed educators to ensure that certain things are taught at certain stages. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, state-mandated tests are here to stay.

“We’ve always taught core content,” says Dr. Bob Archer, assistant professor of education at Notre Dame College. “But about 10 years ago, state standards and tests changed the way we go about it. Now, we’re being held accountable to hit certain targets. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s forced us to change how we teach, and yes, sometimes we teach to the test. But even when that happens, kids are still learning. People can argue all day about test validity, but the results, especially in Lake County, show that kids are meeting standards. They’re learning.”
Fourth-grade proficiency tests are a big deal to students and teachers, and to prepare for them, kids need to be able to read and complete basic numeric calculations. To this end, a typical second-grade benchmark is that students be able to identify a main idea and supporting details in reading selections. Becerra’s classes spend a lot of time practicing this. “It’s what’s expected,” she says, “It’s dictated by the state. Parents who read to their kids and who encourage them to read on their own really help them succeed.” Second graders are also expected to be able to add, subtract and regroup.

So where is all this going? Why the push to learn more and more at younger ages? Although the state is responsible for initiating the changes, colleges also are becoming more selective in the pool of applicants, picking the best.

“The bar’s been raised by the state,” Vrabel says, “but colleges want more than they did 20 years ago.” He notes that The Ohio State University now wants to see an ACT score of 27 along with a high-school 3.2 GPA, and those marks don’t guarantee admissions. “Several years ago, a 22 ACT score and a 3.0 was good enough. It’s much more competitive today, and it’s up to primary, middle and high schools to prepare students to meet these standards.”

A complete list of state standards at all grade levels for subjects including English, math, social studies, library skills, technology, science, fine arts and more is accessible at
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