Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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As school resumes, state tests up in air


Schools across Ohio are opening their doors, but teachers and students still don’t know what the state’s standardized tests for this year will look like.

The state budget signed by Gov. John Kasich in July eliminated funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, which Ohio schools had used for only a year. 

A day later, Richard Ross, Ohio’s education superintendent, announced that new math and English Language Arts assessments would be developed by the American Institutes of Research, the same company that created the state’s science and social studies exams.

That’s not a lot of turnaround time to develop new tests. Work by AIR, the state, and educators is still under way. State authorities have set the window for testing dates for early April through early May, 2016, and teachers are reviewing possible test questions, an Ohio Department of Education spokesman said.

“We understand the importance of developing the new math and ELA assessments, which is why the department is moving quickly,” spokesman Michael Perona said.

The platform will be the same used for the AIR science and social studies tests, though many details about the tests remain to be revealed.

For educators, it’s just the latest difficulty in standardized testing. This school year will be the third in a row with new assessments, which makes apples-to-apples comparisons of results difficult. 

But while at least part of PARCC’s downfall was caused by its association with the Common Core standards, those standards remain, so educators are focusing on those while they await the exam details.

“We will deal with the testing as it’s decided,” said Jim Gault, Toledo Public Schools’ chief academic officer.

In some ways, Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler said, schools are in better shape this year than the previous one. Districts had two unknowns then: what PARCC and AIR would look like. With AIR developing the math and English exams, there will be at least some familiarity, he said.

“So I think the level to where we are this year ... people have taken a deep breath,” he said.

Tests will be shorter this year. Length was one of the top complaints about PARCC.

Many of the sanctions associated with poor performance on previous standardized tests, for both teachers and districts, won’t apply to this year’s tests, meaning the stakes are lower.

The test scores won’t be used for now on teacher evaluations, and charter schools will have a temporary reprieve from rules that automatically force them to close if they perform poorly. 

But test scores still will be publicly announced, meaning districts will have to explain results to parents and the community.

“It will be more of a challenge now because we will be entering a third year in a row with a different system,” Mr. Gault said.

Some educators complained that PARCC was frustrating to administer, and some teachers complained that linking their evaluations to student test scores was unfair. 

Even though this year will be another frustrating one, Mr. Gault said, he’s hopeful that this is a chance for the state to get the process right. Ohio educators are involved in the development of the test this time.

“I’m glad to see that the state knew last year didn’t work,” he said.

Mr. Hosler also said the state sometimes is blamed unfairly for all things test-related. Federal law, after all, requires states to conduct uniform tests of public school students.

“They have a tough job too,” he said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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