(TNS) -- Friday was the final day of a long, confusing state testing window for Ohio schools and students — a contentious process that has led state legislators to include testing reforms in a half-dozen bills this spring.
But while four overlapping and contrasting bills have passed either the House or Senate, no comprehensive plan has been approved. That means schools don’t know whether they’ll be tweaking the existing system next year, or blowing it up and starting over again.
“I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that we will have some version of a test that is aligned to Ohio’s (current) learning standards, that will use technology, but it will be a considerably redone format over this year’s,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “We will go away from the two (test windows) and we’ll go to one shorter test, given in early May. Exactly who that vendor will be remains to be seen.”
But while Lehner said current vendors for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and American Institutes for Research (AIR) likely would submit revised tests to try to meet Ohio’s desire for change, the state House on Wednesday passed a bill (HB74), by a 92-1 vote, that would ban PARCC from even applying to supply a test to Ohio.
House Bill 74 also would limit state tests to three hours per subject per year, would reduce the number of high school end-of-course exams and would require the Ohio Department of Education to review state learning standards, teacher evaluation systems and several other procedures.
“The fact that House Bill 74 would prohibit PARCC from being considered is a mistake,” Lehner said. “It’s possible PARCC will make the (desired) changes and the other group won’t. And where does that leave us? Forced to go with a choice that’s not the type of test we requested? We don’t want to tie our hands.”
Another bill introduced Wednesday (SB163) would completely ban the use of the Common Core-tied learning standards that Ohio’s current math and English tests are based on.
Time to adjust
The lack of consensus as summer approaches worries many school officials, who just spent four years preparing for new learning standards, textbooks and tests that officially took effect this year, only to see significant backlash.
“The important thing is that the decisions be made in enough time so that school districts have time to prepare,” said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association. “They need to get their testing calendars out and be able to inform teachers, parents, students and the broader community about the plan. That was one of the issues with PARCC.”
The biggest complaint against Ohio’s new system this year was the increased amount of time spent testing. Every piece of proposed testing legislation calls for reduced testing time.
“The No. 1 answer from everybody is that the amount of testing is just ridiculous,” Greenon Superintendent Dan Bennett said. “When you’re disrupting the instruction or the school day as many times as we did this year, it’s not good for us. It’s hurt us quite a bit, in terms of letting teachers teach what they’re passionate about and focusing on teaching and learning, rather than scheduling for the tests.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, wants to throw out the PARCC tests, get bids for new tests over the summer, then have Ohio pick its own new test and stick with it.
But Lehner and other education officials say selecting a test is an important, time-consuming process.
“Developing a new test, unless you just pull something off the shelf, is difficult,” Asbury said. “Most off the shelf tests, despite what the vendors may tell you, don’t really relate to the new standards. That would set back progress.”
Bennett said he thinks people will be willing to put up with more change if it means less testing next year, but he also said it’s important to have some consistency in testing data from year to year.
“I’ve always said as superintendent, as principal, as teacher, I don’t mind keeping score, and I value the data. We’ve used it at Greenon … with the lessons we designed, the goals that we set, the decisions we make about where to put our dollars.”
Part of the reason for implementing Common Core standards and multi-state tests was so states could benchmark themselves against one another on a common platform.
A report released Thursday by the education reform group Achieve said that when states use their own tests, they often set their “proficiency” standards artificially low. In the tests Ohio used before this year, students only needed to get 32 to 57 percent of questions right to be deemed proficient.
Achieve said Ohio’s reported proficiency rates in reading and math were more than 30 percentage points higher than what the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed, “leading parents and educators to believe that far more students are succeeding than is actually the case.”
As Ohio moves forward, Asbury touted the changes recommended by Lehner’s advisory committee on testing — one test window instead of two, more timely results, a better technology platform for online testing, clearer accommodations for special education students, and more.
“I think the strength of Sen. Lehner’s (work) is that it’s built on the expertise of practitioners — superintendents, curriculum directors, testing specialists,” Asbury said. “And their recommendations were pretty precise.”
Lehner said she expects the state Senate to work those recommendations into an amended version of House Bill 74, or into the state budget bill, and get it finished by early June.
“We need to return to a focus on learning in the classroom versus testing in the classroom,” Lehner said.
©2015 Springfield News-Sun, Ohio. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.