COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers are rewriting a bill to exempt K-12 schools from administering standardized tests this spring, since President Joe Biden’s administration has said they expect the assessments.
Ian Rosenblum, acting U.S. assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, wrote a Feb. 22 letter to state education leaders saying the assessments need to occur.
“To be successful once schools have re-opened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need,” Rosenblum, wrote. “… It remains vitally important that parents, educators, and the public have access to data on student learning and success.”
Rosenblum’s letter means the Ohio General Assembly can’t pass House Bill 67 in its current form because the measure would instruct the Ohio Department of Education to seek permission from the U.S. education secretary to not have standardized tests this year.
Ohio teachers union heads are concerned because the tests are tied to graduation requirements, something House Bill 67 would have uncoupled.
“We were kind of surprised by this,” said Rep. Gayle Manning, chair of the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee. “House Bill 67 seemed like we had all the votes.”
Lawmakers are now reworking the bill to comply with the federal government’s requirements. The U.S. Department of Education will allow public schools to alter how the tests are administered. For instance, they can be given at a later date or a shorter form than tests during other years.
“It’s too late to shorten the test,” said Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville. “The printed tests are already going out to the schools. They start March 22. It takes the schools a while to get them organized, send them out by each grade.”
However, lawmakers are looking at giving schools more time to give the tests. The Ohio Department of Education already moved three of the tests to May 15, she said.
Lawmakers are thinking “why not go until the end of the school year? And so I had a discussion with ODE on that and they said, ‘If you do that you’re going to have to give us more time to get the results back because that’s in statute,’” Manning said.
Currently, the public gets to look at the school report cards around Sept. 15. Manning said that the substitute version of House Bill 67 may push that deadline to a later time.
The federal government is offering states permission to not sanction or penalize districts based on poor grades from the tests or low attendance on testing days. Manning said those provisions will be in HB 67, since some parents are choosing to keep their children at home over coronavirus concerns, even though Gov. Mike DeWine has ordered all schools to reopen at least part time starting March 1.
The reworked, or substitute, version of HB 67 will also specify that standardized tests will not impact graduation requirements. Nor will they be a factor in end-of-course grades, Manning said.
The substitute bill is expected to come out next week. Manning would like it passed out of her committee next week too, since there isn’t much time before testing begins.
“We’re hoping the Senate will be in agreement,” she said. “We’ve had conversations over there because we know this is time-sensitive.”
Presidents of the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation Teachers said in interviews Friday the state should still seek a waiver from the federal government on testing, like other states. OEA President Scott DiMauro pointed out that Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona isn’t even confirmed yet.
Both want provisions in legislation to address graduation requirements by allowing officials to substitute required scores on end-of-year tests for course grades. Other changes should include looking at the timing of state tests and minimizing the amount of state-required tests, if students have to take federally-mandated ones. Some students are headed back to in-person school for the first time this spring in about a year a year. Teachers will need to help them adapt to the classroom environment again, while preparing for tests.
“I don’t know a single educator that says, ‘Oh yeah, I’m really happy a significant amount of the chunk of instructional time I have between now and the end of the school year will be devoted to testing,’” DiMauro said. “It’s a waste of time.”
Some argue that standardized testing is how states keep schools accountable, and that results from this “summative” testing can help guide schools in decision-making.
But results from the tests, especially with postponed dates, wouldn’t come back while teachers have the ability to act on the results. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently asked all public schools to release plans to catch up on disrupted learning caused by the pandemic, but spring state test results won’t be available to inform these plans. Teachers use “formative” assessments in classrooms, class-level tests which provide more individualized information, something lacking in standardized tests.
“As we’re thinking about summer school and things like that, we need to be thinking about enrichment opportunities to allow students to learn, not a traditional type of sitting in the classroom or sitting in front of the computer,” OFT President Melissa Cropper said. “We also have to think about what we’re going to do differently next year to address these learning losses. That might mean we need smaller classrooms. We need more intervention specialists. Maybe we need to put in half-grades that could be accelerated … I don’t have all the answers but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that put a group of teachers together and they’ll tell you what we can do to make it better.”