State budget changes school testing


By Casey S. Elliott - celliott@civitasmedia.com



Ohio’s recent state budget process brought about a change that caught school administrators by surprise – reducing the number of tests for students and changing the company providing those tests.

The changes happened quickly, with new tests for students in the upcoming school year. And this is before the results of the last round of testing are released.

The new budget law switched providers of Ohio’s math and reading tests from Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) to American Institutes of Research (AIR). AIR currently provides science and social studies tests in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The tests will align to Ohio’s standards, and will be shorter than those done by PARCC.

During the last school year, PARCC tests were given twice, toward the end of the school year. The new tests would be given once, and for less time, according to the education department. More details are not yet available.

“I think it caught a lot of people by surprise,” Triad Local Schools Superintendent Chris Piper said. “It happened pretty quickly with the budget bill. It’s a little frustrating for schools to make those adjustments. It doesn’t change the game for us (at Triad). We will continue doing what we’re doing.”

The testing changes followed complaints to legislators by educators and families statewide about how much time students spent testing. The tests were also introduced at the same time as online testing, new teacher evaluations processes were introduced, and new standards were adopted.

The state budget included a number of “safe harbor” provisions – protection against sanctions for teachers or students for poor test performance – because of the switch to new tests. Student testing plays a large portion in teacher evaluations and school report card data in Ohio.

Some districts report difficulty with online testing

The last round of testing was in the spring, in two testing windows. Results from those tests are not expected until the end of the 2015 at the earliest, which adds uncertainty to whether students are learning the material required.

One way districts are making sure their students are learning is by conducting their own assessments in the classroom. Piper said his district has done this before and will continue to do so.

The uncertainty of switching to new tests has school superintendents wondering how it will work. Some Champaign County districts of the districts have switched at least partially to online testing, and reported some problems.

Urbana City Schools, West Liberty-Salem Local Schools and Graham Local Schools had a mix of online and paper-and-pencil testing. Superintendents reported some problems with the online PARCC testing system, though they did iron them out.

West Liberty-Salem Superintendent Kraig Hissong said they experienced “significant” problems with the online assessments during practice rounds on the district’s wireless network. And although the district attempted to fix them before taking the actual tests, they found they needed to purchase extra laptop computers with wired connections to provide options for students. The district found testing on iPads to be “challenging and perhaps detrimental” to students being able to clearly communicate what they knew and understood about a topic.

Hissong added the AIR tests seemed to go more smoothly and were easier to work with from both teachers’ and students’ perspective.

Graham Superintendent Norm Glismann said his district had online testing for the middle school only this year, though that is expected to expand to all students in the district for the upcoming school year. The technological problems were ironed out early in the testing window, though the district found using Chromebooks instead of desktop computers seemed to work better for testing.

Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools tested all its students online this school year and plans to continue to use technology in the district for testing and more. The district did not have a lot of problems with the testing, though there were some glitches in the testing platform, Superintendent Danielle Prohaska said.

All students at Triad Local Schools tested online this year, Piper said. The district had “very few problems” with the testing platform, he said.

Administrators question reliability of results after changes

The pace of the testing change concerned Piper, who said that in the past AIR field-tested its test questions and not use scores until they were considered “reliable.”

“My only true worry is this – having high quality, reliable questions being developed in that short of time period,” he said. “It’s usually the process of a few years. These new assessments will have a margin of error to figure out.”

The number and frequency of changes affecting education coming from federal and state government bother Glismann, who said he thinks those decisions should be made at the district.

“Politicians are making decisions that educators should be making, and that’s a problem right now in this state,” he said. “I just finished my 39th year as an educator, and up until a few years ago, all decisions on testing, assessments, curriculum and evaluation were locally made. As the federal and state governments have gotten more involved, education hasn’t improved, but unfunded mandates and legislated requirements have made teaching and administration extremely difficult. It’s no wonder that fewer people desire to become teachers, and fewer teachers want to become administrators. Education is at a crossroads right now, and the coming years will be very important for determining the future of education.”

By Casey S. Elliott

celliott@civitasmedia.com

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.