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Anxiety on Ohio Board of Education over standardized testing

Mark Urycki
State Impact Ohio

Ohio public schools are in their third week of issuing standardized tests for students in grades  four through eight, and high school. The state legislature passed a law one year ago that eliminates any ramifications for the pupils in this first year of the test. But that hasn’t calmed down members of the state board of education at their meeting this week.

It’s known as the PARCC test, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.  It is meant to test what kids have learned in the now statewide Common Core curriculum.  Throughout Ohio, about 60 percent of the districts are taking the test online and 40 percent on paper with few problems so far, says Jim Wright of the Ohio Department of Education.

“Overall with the number of tests we have given right now there are over 850,000 tests that have been completed, 600,000 in math and ELA [English Language Arts] and over 250,000 in science and social studies,” Wright said. “So I think it shows that a lot of schools and districts are doing successfully.”

But Board of Education members aren’t so sure. 

Mary Rose Oakar of Cleveland turned to State Senator Peggy Lehner and said there must be some issues with the test rollout. 

“Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting boxes of test mania, letters from thoughtful parents, students, teachers,” Oakar said. “I mean boxes.”

 “Yeah, I know I have the same boxes,” Lehner said. “But I want to point out we’ve been getting those for a couple months now.”

Lehner, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, believes it’s a vocal few who are complaining and did so even before the exams were given.  Some opposition to the PARCC test comes from groups opposed to the Common Core standards that Ohio educators adopted.  Others just believe students take too many high stakes, standardized tests.

Lehner asked that the board members allow the tests to run their course over the next two weeks so officials can study how well they worked.  But new board member Bob Hagan of Youngstown said every time he goes to the grocery store he’s accosted by upset parents, students, and teachers.

“What you’re dealing with now is a test that they think can end their career and the morale of teachers that is disintegrating right before our eyes” Hagan said.

But last year and again earlier this month, Lehner pointed out, the state legislature passed a law so this first-year test will not have ramifications on students’ grades or their ability to graduate.

“There are no implications for anyone at the school level, the teacher level or the students’ level from these exams this spring” Lehner said. “There are none.  So not taking the test only delays our ability to find out whether it’s a bad or a good test or whether its formulated well or not.”

That’s not entirely true.  In fact, the test will count toward teacher evaluations unless the teacher works out a deal with the school district. 

It was conservative Republicans, like the late State Senator Gene Watts, who wanted strict statewide standards and testing, going back to the 1990s.  And some still back them. 
One of the eight board members appointed by Governor Kasich, Melanie Bolender, of Mt Vernon, expressed support for the exams.

“Accountability is important and testing is the way to hold people accountable,” Bolender said. “I think we need to hold people accountable.”  

The Senate has formed a committee that includes board members, teachers, and curriculum experts to investigate whether the PARCC test works for Ohio.  They’ll issue a report in May.  After that the committee will look for ways to follow up on the State School Superintendent’s goal of cutting back by 20% all standardized tests in Ohio.