Ohio's high-stakes achievement exams for the school year start tomorrow, marking the beginning of the state's most comprehensive testing calendar in its history.
All third-grade students will take the reading achievement test this week. It can be administered by schools any day this week, but most opt for tomorrow or Tuesday so makeups can be given the remainder of the week to those who were absent.
The number of tests and the stress placed on students as young as age 8 has sparked criticism from some parents and educators.
Lonny Rivera, principal of Oregon Coy Elementary School and the former principal at Toledo Public's Sherman Elementary, said he recalls seeing third-grade children vomit from the stress of big tests or chew their nails down to nearly nothing.
"It's truly a stressful thing because there are lot of stakes for students and for each individual school," Mr. Rivera said.
Ohio school districts and individual schools this year will be rated on 30 "indicators," which include performance on the achievement tests, attendance, and graduation rates. That's up from 25 indicators they were rated on for the 2005-2006 school year because of five new tests.
"Teachers know it's important to prepare for the tests, and it's also a [public relations] thing for schools," Mr. Rivera said. "But we do so much beyond the test, and we want to make sure we are hitting all the needs of the child, not just the test."
Kathy Zachel, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Bowling Green public school district, agreed. She acknowledged that the state's standardized tests are important, but warned parents and students against stressing out over the exams. "There are definitely more tests than there were before, and I think it's probably not a wise thing to make these things bigger than what they are," Ms. Zachel said. "The only ones that are the really high-stake tests are the Ohio Graduation Tests, because you will not get a diploma without passing those."
J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the increase in the number of tests is largely because of requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Those requirements are met with this year's aligned achievement tests replacing proficiency tests and the Ohio Graduation Test replacing the ninth-grade proficiency tests required for high school graduation, he said.
The graduation test, which students officially took for the first time in March, 2005, replaced the ninth-grade test as the measure of proficiency in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. A student must pass all five sections before receiving a high school diploma.
The Class of 2007 is the first class required to pass the graduation test. Students who failed one or more portions get six more tries by the end of their senior year.
The graduation test will be given the week of Oct. 23 for juniors and seniors.
Larry Black, principal of TPS' Bowsher High School, said more than half of his sophomores passed all five sections on their first attempt last school year.
"The high school students have been involved in high-stakes testing now long enough that they take it seriously," Mr. Black said.
"I don't know that they are stressed out about it as much as they are aware of it. And it's in the back of their mind all of the time during the school year."
Beyond state and federally mandated testing, many school districts administer their own diagnostic standardized tests. In addition, students considering college face the PSAT, SAT, PACT, and ACT.
Toledo Public Schools, the first urban district in Ohio to reach the state's "continuous improvement" rating, is struggling to reach "effective" without just "teaching to the test," said interim Superintendent John Foley. "I think the more time spent on testing impacts the amount of instructional time and it puts a lot of pressure on the teachers and students," Mr. Foley said. "The testing landscape has changed, and we are trying to teach to the standards that they have developed."
Still, the number of tests concerns some educators. Mr. Foley said he has heard among other educators the joke, "No Child Left Behind untested" but stressed he has never used the phrase.
Kim Dilloway's fourth-grade daughter will take the state's reading, math, and writing achievement tests between April 30 and May 11 at Beverly Elementary School in Toledo.
Ms. Dilloway said teachers at the school make a serious effort to teach the material but not create knots in the children's stomachs. "There were still times last year when they were preparing for the test and my daughter would come out of school and be so angry," Ms. Dilloway said. "A lot of it has to do with parental involvement, and that will alleviate some of that anxiety."
The bulk of tests are given in the spring. The third-grade reading test administered this week will be given again in April; the state discounts the lower score.
After weeks of preparation and practicing exam strategies, teachers recommend just a few things for students to do as test dates near. Educators recommend students don't stay up late cramming. Instead, they should stay calm and get a good night's sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends children ages 5 to 12 get 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night. Teenagers should get nine hours.
And breakfast on the morning of the test is essential.
"The teachers at Beverly had the children come to school half an hour early on the first day of testing last year," Ms. Dilloway said. "They had pancakes and breakfast and just relaxed before the test."
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