State testing changes make administrators scramble


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 have been 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.

The changeover makes Benjamin Logan Local Schools’ new superintendent, David Harmon, question whether the most recent test data will be received. The last round of testing was in the spring, in two different 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.

“It is unfortunate, but teachers will have next to zero option to use that information to help improve instruction, because the students who the data is about (whenever we do get it) will be a year older,” he said. “Those teachers won’t be working with the same kids.”

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.

Both West Liberty-Salem Local Schools and Benjamin Logan had a mix of online and paper-and-pencil testing. Both districts tested the system prior to the official test-taking window, and attempted to iron out any problems that cropped up.

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.

Harmon said his district did not have technology issues on its side of the testing. He added the district is working to add capacity to its network as more technology is moved into the classroom.

For more information on Ohio testing, visit the Ohio Department of Education’s testing information page at education.ohio.gov/Topics/Testing/2015-2016-State-Tests-Updates.

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.