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Ohio education critics decry amount of test taking

Recently released plan shows how state will meet federal education-law requirements

Critics of a plan drafted by the state to meet a new federal education-law requirement are disappointed Ohio’s proposal doesn’t call for a reduction in the number of tests students must take.

The Ohio Department of Education this month released a draft of its plan outlining how the state will meet the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, successor to the No Child Left Behind Act. The law, signed by former President Barack Obama in December, 2015, gives states and local districts more flexibility when it comes to testing and other matters.

Ohio residents have through March 6 to provide feedback before the state submits its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3.

A chief concern among many superintendents and teachers is that Ohio’s draft plan fails to recommend cutting the number of tests students take — a move that would require a change in state law.

The federal law mandates a total of 17 exams throughout elementary and high school. Ohio law currently exceeds that requirement with a total of 24 tests, officials said.

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The education department’s proposal does not call for the number of tests to be reduced, but noted it will work with the governor, legislators, and educators to “re-examine its testing requirements.”

Critics contend that approach doesn’t go far enough. They agree too much testing is a top complaint, and the draft document ignores feedback from thousands of people who participated in public forums and surveys.

“I think they are kicking the can down the road with this, and I think what they’ve done is they basically just cut and pasted where they could,” said Kevin Dalton, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. “At this point right now, I don’t feel like they listened.”

Jim Lloyd, superintendent of Olmsted Falls schools in Cuyahoga County, described the state’s proposal as “disappointing,” “disrespectful,” and “disingenuous.”

Mr. Lloyd is the lead author of a “collective response” signed by officials from more than a dozen northeast Ohio school districts. He said the state education department could recommend changes that would address concerns, but instead the draft plan doesn’t take advantage of flexibility the new federal law offers.

Each of Ohio’s seven additional tests takes about three hours to complete, adding up to a loss of about two days of learning, educators argue.

The Ohio tests not federally mandated include a third-grade English language-arts test administered in the fall, fourth-grade and sixth-grade social studies tests, and additional high school tests in American history, government, English, and math.

An Ohio education department spokesman said the amount of time students spend taking state tests has been sliced in half from 2014 to 2016.

Brittany Halpin said the department is “committed to an ongoing, inclusive process” that identifies where Ohio can “streamline” and modify tests.

“One of the themes communicated during our stakeholder engagement was the need for stability in the state testing system. So, Ohio is proposing to maintain its current state assessment system. At the same time, we will work in partnership with the General Assembly to re-examine any state assessments not required under ESSA — an area in which Ohio has made significant progress,” she said in a written statement.

Toledo Public Schools officials are working with Ohio’s largest urban districts to craft a response to the state proposal that’s similar to the northeast Ohio districts’ reaction, chief academic officer Jim Gault said.

“I think this is one topic of pretty unanimous voice,” he said. “We are still hopeful that the state is going to look at it and have some reform around testing. We are optimistic that the state is looking at it. That being said, we hope that there’s action.”

Mr. Dalton said Toledo teachers are concerned about an “excessive amount of testing,” which takes away time needed to develop a rapport with students and provide instruction. The results of standardized tests unfairly “pigeonhole students,” he said.

“The work that our students are doing every day is showing growth,” he said. “If you compare that pace to an unrealistic set of standards, it does not give an accurate depiction.”

The state gave TPS an F on its most recent report card in the achievement category, a grade that reflects how many students passed state tests and how well they performed.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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