Understanding Our Children's Progress In The Classroom
A guest column by State Senator Peggy Lehner
February 25, 2016
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Dear Ohio Students, Parents and Teachers,

Today the Ohio Department of Education released the 2014-2015 state report card. It may look as if some disaster has fallen on your school. Schools that are used to seeing As and Bs may for the first time see Cs, Ds and even an occasional F. Please do not panic as several factors have resulted in this situation for some school districts. Student performance has not taken a nosedive nor are our teachers failing to educate their young students.

So what is going on and what should you make of these reports cards? It is important to know that last year Ohio moved away from the Ohio Achievement Assessments which were given for many years, to a more challenging state assessment tied to new Ohio Learning Standards. Learning standards are benchmarks for what students should know at specific points in their education.

The standards, or expectations, increased and the score needed to pass the test was set at a higher level. This was done out of recognition that too many students are not graduating from high school with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century workplace. All across the country students are being asked to step up their knowledge and skills. Until we adjust to these new higher expectations it might appear that our schools aren’t doing as well as they have in the past. Massachusetts went through a similar process a number of years ago and today their students compare favorably to some of the highest performing nations in the world.

In addition to being harder, last year’s tests were much longer and were given for the first time by computer. While some schools chose to continue to use paper and pencil tests, the majority of schools elected to give the tests online. The advantage of an online test is that in time schools and parents will receive test results sooner. Unfortunately, many schools experienced technical difficulties and encountered problems with the online format that was not consistent. While most schools liked the online format of the social studies and science tests, the format was different and less user friendly for math and English language arts. These technical issues likely impacted school performance on tests.

In some districts many parents made the decision to have their children opt out of the state tests. This was due to concerns that the math and English language arts tests were developed by PARCC – a multi-state consortium that the Ohio State Board of Education voted to join in 2010. Concerns were raised that Ohio was ceding control of the tests and potentially student information to the federal government. Other parents were concerned that the tests were too long and not developmentally appropriate. Schools that had large numbers of students opt out of testing will see lower scores this year because these students count as a zero.

Modified results will be available on the report card that will show what the school would have received had these students not been included in school results. In response to concerns from parents and educators, the Senate convened an advisory committee on testing last spring. As a result of this group’s work, improvements were made for testing this school year. The law now bans the State Board of Education from using the PARCC tests and from joining a multi-state consortium to develop standards.

The length of this year’s tests are significantly reduced to ensure that this year and into the future less time is taken away from classroom instruction.  New safeguards were put into the law to protect student personal information. A standards review committee comprised of parents, educators and subject matter experts is reviewing the state standards and tests. There will now be a single technology platform to ease online administration of tests for those schools that choose to offer the test online. Schools will still have the ability to administer paper and pencil tests. A “safe harbor” was put in place to hold students, schools and teachers harmless from any consequences associated with poor tests results for last year, this year and the following year as we transition to these higher standards.

Many people have asked why we didn’t just forego a report card this year. Unfortunately, that was not an option because federal law requires that we test all students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and report the scores. Also, a lot of the report card information is not related to the tests and should be available to citizens looking for information about the schools in their community. For example, graduation rates fall in this category and are an important indicator about the local district.

It is critically important that we measure the quality of education we provide our children. Ohio’s accountability system is far from perfect and I am committed to working to continue to make improvements. That being said, it is important to understand why this year’s report card results have fallen. I hope this gives you a better understanding of what is happening.

Peggy Lehner, Chairwoman, Senate Education Committee

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