LIMA — An education bill, designed to return choice and control to local school districts, is currently being discussed in the Ohio Senate.
The bill, Senate Bill 216, was sponsored by Sen. Matt Huffman (R-District 12) and would give school districts the freedom to choose which state mandated tests they used to evaluate their students, how they evaluated the effectiveness and training of new teachers, substitute teacher requirements and other issues important to school administrators and teachers.
“It’s a real clash between central planners and people running things,” Huffman said. “What I try to emphasize to everybody is these folks who are running the schools — superintendents and principles, administrators, teachers — they all went to college. They know what they’re doing.”
There are two grade school tests that are addressed in SB 216, the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and the third grade reading test.
The KRA is a test given to kindergarten students at the beginning of their school year to assess their knowledge so teachers can get to know them and their knowledge level, said Robert Sommers, partner in residence at Strategos Group.
Sommers used to be director of the Office of 21st Century Education under Gov. John Kasich. Sommers and the office he directed implemented a lot of the regulations SB 216 is trying to deregulate. The office pushed to implement the regulations because they were trying to improve the education system in Ohio, he said. It didn’t work and now Sommers is supporting SB 216.
The KRA isn’t the only test schools use to evaluate kindergartners but it is the test the state requires. Wapakoneta Superintendent Keith Horner said Wapak schools uses Measuring Academic Progress testing to evaluate their elementary students. The state uses a different test and regardless of the information gained through MAP testing, Wapak is required to take the state mandated testing, too.
The reason Wapak uses MAP testing is they get the results back in a timely fashion and can implement changes to student curriculum as soon as possible if the test shows a problem area, Horner said. The state takes much longer to return the results.
“We have no problem providing that data to the state,” Horner said. “We would like to use our own tests.”
The third grade reading test determines if students will advance to the fourth grade or be held back, said Chris Pfister, superintendent of Waynesfield schools and architect of SBl 216. The test is designed to evaluate language arts knowledge and is given over two days.
“It’s a high stake test,” he said. “Students have to score a 700 or they don’t go to fourth grade.”
The test is given online, which causes issues for students who don’t have much experience using computers, Pfister said. The test doesn’t actually evaluate a student’s ability to read as intended but instead evaluates a students aptitude with computer navigation, he said.
“We had one student meltdown because he couldn’t get stuff on the computer to work,” Pfister said. “We knew if he was allowed to take the test on paper he would have passed.”
SB 216 would give superintendents the freedom to choose the correct testing used in the districts to provide the state with the educational data the required.
Current state regulations say substitute teachers must have a license in the subject and grade they are subbing in or they have to be replaced after 60 days, said Horner.
“In that case it’s really hard to find substitutes,” he said. “Let’s say I’m a seventh to twelfth grade language arts teacher but I want to sub a fifth grade class. I would have to take courses to sub that class.”
“We had a situation where a teacher was out for an extended period of time in a field that is difficult to teach,” said Don Horstman, superintendent of Ottawa-Glandorf schools. “We had a qualified sub, who is a vet, who is knowledgeable in the area, but their teaching license wasn’t the correct one.”
Horstman said the substitute’s military service matched the subject he was teaching and gave the students a unique insight into it but they had to keep pulling him out of the classroom every five days, which resets the 60-day limit, and replacing him with someone else for a few days.
Waynesfield schools had a similar situation happen.
“I have a Spanish teacher, and she is phenomenal,” Pfister said. “Her kids learn so much.”
A group of parents were preparing to go on a trip to Europe together and approached Pfister about having the Spanish teacher hold an introduction to Spanish class for their younger children so they could get a grip on the language before leaving.
Pfister supported the idea and took it up with the Ohio Board of Education, he said. The board said that was possible — but the teacher would need to pay for a new license and return to college to take courses to become licensed to teach students younger than seventh to 12th graders.
SB 216 would eliminate the long-term substitute license and consolidate all teacher licenses into two grades, K-8 and 6-12, Pfister said. It would also allow superintendents to waive license requirements to teachers who already hold a license that would be the correct fit for an assignment.
“What worries me terribly is all these reforms have significantly damaged our ability to attract talented teachers,” Sommers said.
Pfister agrees with that assessment, saying 50 percent of the teachers entering education today leave by the fifth year. There are multiple reasons, but the stress of evaluation has a bit to do with it, he said.
New teachers are now required to go through a four-year resident training program. They’ve already gone through four years of undergraduate school, student teaching and evaluations before graduating and have to do it all over again during their residency, he said.
“At year three, (new teachers) have to do a 15-minute video of teaching your classroom,” Pfister said.
The state then requires the video be sent to a company in California to be evaluated, he said.
“I think the state has put millions into this company,” Pfister said, adding he thinks the company name is Educopia. “A group there decides if you’re a good teacher or not.”
Pfister said he doesn’t see how a group thousands of miles away could tell if a resident teacher is good at their job from watching a 15-minute video. They have an education service center where new teachers can find experts and principals to help them if they need it. They also provide local teachers who can act as mentors, Pfister said.
“We think the local schools should be allowed to control their own workforce,” he said.
“I always like to compare doctors and teachers,” Sommers said. “They both have a similar role in society. If your doctor tells you to stop smoking, it’s still up to you to take that step.”
Teaching, like being a doctor, is a partnership between the educated imparting their knowledge and experience onto individuals who don’t have the same level of education to improve their understanding, he said.
Sommers said he believes the reason medicine has leapt forward during the 20th and 21st centuries is because they are regulated by the professionals in the profession and not by the state. Doctors decide the best ways to train other doctors and under what situations experimentation is allowed, he said.
“You can’t regulate excellence,” Sommers said. “Excellence comes from passion and vision. Right now that’s what we need, not regulation and control. In Finland, teachers have a great deal of autonomy but they go through a rigorous training process. I think education will improve the day we support talented educators.”
SB 216 would do away with the regulation of sending the video off for evaluations and keep that process at a local level.
On Dec. 6, the Ohio Senate heard testimony from the opposition to SB 216.
“The way I see it is special interests will probably testify against (SB 216),” Pfister said.
Horstman said a lot of opposition would be from companies who are making money from the regulations that are in place.
“If you look at the opposition, I would suggest following the money,” he said. “There a financial interest for things to stay as they are.”
Huffman said Ohio spends $2.8 million on the KRA test itself each year. If schools were given a chance of what tests they used for kindergarten evaluations many of them might drop the KRA which would means the company selling the state that test would be making less money each year, he said. The company selling that test wouldn’t be happy about losing that much money, Huffman said.
During the opposition testimony on Dec. 6, many people spoke about how they didn’t agree with eliminating the KRA test. Huffman said after the testimony became redundant, he stood up and pointed out that SB 216 didn’t eliminate the KRA but gave schools the choice of using it or something else.
“Whoever gave them their talking points didn’t tell them that,” Huffman said. “The job of the guy selling KRA tests to the state of Ohio is to misinform people about what the bill says.”
SB 216 support
Sommers said the state has spent millions instituting the regulations SB 216 is seeking to deregulate.
“We thought these would make a difference,” he said.
For over a decade Ohio has been focused on reading and mathematics as the heart of education, he said. From 2002-2015 the scores for reading and math testing scores have gone up 1.8 percent, Sommers said.
The Ohio School Report Card system, implemented to help schools see flaws in their education process so they could be fixed, has not worked as hoped, he said. After 15 years, there has been a 1 percent change from 97 percent when implemented to 98 percent, he said.
“We know a top down regulation control system doesn’t work now,” Sommers said. “When Thomas Edison found a filament that didn’t work he didn’t just keep hitting against that filament, he tossed it aside and moved on.”
Sommers said it’s time to pass SB 216 and move onto a new system that makes more sense and has a chance to improve education.
Pfister said SB 216 is just the beginning. There are many other regulations on testing and other issues to deregulate, but for now, the focus is on the current bill.
“This is one of the most common sense public education legislation I’ve ever seen,” said Horstman. “It’s scary how common sense it is, which boggles the mind why there would be any opposition to it.”
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