Prison figures ...

The recidivism rate among Ohio's convicted criminals -- the measure of inmates who are returned to prison after reoffending follow release -- is at a record low, but that doesn't mean all is well with the state's correctional system.

The figure (27.1 percent) released last week by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), is based on a study of prisoners released in 2010.

On the positive side, this number ranks considerably lower than the national average, and Ohio's rate is down from 39 percent in 2000. This downward trend may be positive news, but Ohio's other prison statistics could make an encouraging recidivism rate a footnote.

For example, the state's prison population is approximately 50,500, which has been steady in recent years but is quite a bit higher than it was in 1990 when the figure was just under 32,000, according to the ODRC. Meanwhile, Ohio's prisons are at 134 percent capacity -- exceeding available space is a long-standing issue -- while the population could reach 53,000 in about six years, according to ODRC director Gary Mohr.

To be sure, the lower recidivism rate is only a small part of a much bigger picture.

Vocational education

Getting Ohio youths more engaged in classes that would help prepare them for in-demand careers would benefit all: the students and their families, schools and employers who would have access to a better-trained work force. Gov. John Kasich's idea to offer vocational education earlier, starting in middle school rather than high school, is worth consideration.

Though details remain to be fleshed out, Kasich spoke in his recent State of the State speech of being impressed with the career and technical education being offered in the state today.

He remarked how a group of vocational-education students that he visited with last month were motivated, smart and "had a sense of direction ... . They were excited about what they were studying."

Today, more than 1 in 5 Ohio high-school students attend vocational programs, and those students have a remarkable high-school graduation rate, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Sixty percent go on to college or post-secondary training.

Education is not one-size-fits-all, and many well-compensated jobs don't call for traditional college prep and a four-year degree.

Kasich's idea to have career centers extend their reach to younger students merits exploring.

The Columbus Dispatch

SAT changes

Less than a decade after it started requiring students to write an essay as part of the SAT, the College Board announced Wednesday that it is eliminating that portion of the test. At the same time, it will do away with certain obscure vocabulary words and the penalty for inaccurate guesses. These are good moves, but they don't answer the fundamental question of whether the standardized test should continue to be a part of the college application process, especially after a new study found that it is a poor predictor of whether students will succeed in college.

The mandatory essay was never a helpful addition to the test. Students were expected to write it in less than half an hour, and there was no requirement that they back up their opinions with accurate information; in our opinion, it provided little if any information to colleges about how well an applicant could write or think. What's more, it favored those who wrote a lot over those who wrote well, and rewarded those who used a multisyllabic vocabulary.

It will be replaced by a new, optional essay in which students will analyze the arguments of a written passage.

Speaking of big words, the College Board also said it would eliminate lesser-known words such as "prevaricator" that people seldom if ever use, even in academia. Students generally know these words only through cramming, not through mastery of the language. The test will cover fewer math topics but will do so in more depth, and the College Board will offer online tutoring for low-income students.

With more colleges shifting to the rival ACT, and many colleges making both tests optional, the College Board is clearly struggling to keep its signature product relevant. But there is an inherent problem with a high-stakes test that so clearly benefits affluent students who can afford to pay for private tutors and multiple test sittings. Chucking the essay and changing some of the questions don't fix those problems.

The Los Angeles Times

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