Committee works to find testing solutions

First Posted: 3/13/2015

COLUMBUS — Last week, the Ohio Senate Education Committee sat down with constituents to discuss an issue that’s been long-lasting for school districts, especially this year — testing and teacher evaluations.

“It was very apparent that legislators are getting a lot of heat. It was obvious something needed to be done,” Van Wert teacher Chuck Rollins said. “To be honest, some of them didn’t have a great deal of knowledge on how the new testing worked or teacher evaluations. But they were very open.”

The hearing, which took place Tuesday, included two teachers from Van Wert City Schools, Cincinnati Public Schools, Miami Valley Career Tech Center, and Triad. It also included Ohio Federation of Teachers Legislative Director and the organization’s president Melissa Cooper. Two parents of children currently enrolled in Cincinnati Public Schools were also participants during the legislative meeting to voice concerns.

According to a news release, one of the main concerns about new assessment programs, such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — an assessment that districts use to test math and English-language arts proficiency in students based on Common Core standards — was the amount of time spent on testing and test administering.

On one hand, teachers were concerned about the ability to meet state standards and requirements for each unit and class before tests were implemented. On the other, parents were worried about students’ well-being, based on the amount of stress students are under with such high stakes stemming from tests and the assessments’ impact on their perception and attitudes in relation to school and its effects on both physical and mental health.

The parents at the hearing both decided to opt their children out of testing this year for similar reasoning. This year, districts may have been awarded safe harbor from the state, protecting teachers and schools from any form of action based on state testing. Students have similar protection. However, in future years the decision to opt-out could affect the school, district and teacher evaluations.

Opting out has been minimal at some local schools, such as Lima. But Superintendent Jill Ackerman said it hasn’t been enough to cause too much concern.

The Van Wert teachers who testified at the hearing, Rollins and George Scott, said the issue of opting out hasn’t been a problem in their district. But they said the impact of using tests as an evaluative resource could serve as a disincentive for quality teachers at schools in areas with higher poverty rates.

“It makes those inner-city schools or schools with poorer populations look even worse rather than really measuring overall student growth,” Rollins said.

In a rush to implement the new program and standards, administrators and technology representatives or departments have also been scrambling to make necessary arrangements for the new online testing while maintaining schools calendars and test deadlines.

Rollins said its a struggle for schools to find all the computers necessary for testing and other schools struggle to even have the right technology or resources if they don’t have as much funding.

To help remedy concerns, Rollins said it’s possible the senate would motion to extend safe harbor for two or three additional years to allow schools more time to transition to the new system. There’s also a bill being drafted that would limit the amount of time spent on testing to 2 percent of the school year.

But how they plan to measure that is unclear, Scott said. If measured by hours in a day, it wouldn’t remedy much of the problem. Because, in that sense, schools aren’t even making it up to that percentage of time on testing. If measured by days in a school year, however, it could help to reduce testing time. It was also suggested the state eliminate tests administered three-fourths through the school year.

“I do believe they are working to find a solution to make it better and, as teachers, we know kids are always going to be assessed and we need to assess our kids to see how well they’re doing,” Rollins said.

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