Garrettsville – Unless your address is “Under a Rock” Boulevard, you have most likely heard some degree of controversy surrounding testing in schools. The new tests have become a hot topic on social media and the buzz around the tests is becoming a distraction to education for students, staff, administration and parents.  While we have met with many parents and been communicating our concerns to legislators I felt it would be helpful to provide some history and perspective on the subject.

What are assessments?

Put quite simply an assessment is a test of what someone knows. There are a broad range of assessments and while you need not be an expert on all types of tests there are some things that will make testing easier to understand.

The range of testing begins with tests called “Formative” tests.  These are simple. Think of them as minute to minute tests teachers conduct while teaching.  They may look for the notorious “Wrinkled Forehead” from a student who is not understanding.  They may call on random students to share the answer to a question or ask them to solve one problem before they leave for the day.  Teachers use this information to plan their instruction. While it is informal, it is a very purposeful and a powerful tool.  Think of these results as the turn by turn instructions given by a GPS….the more you receive the more likely you are to arrive at your destination.

The other end of the range of assessments are called “Summative” tests.  These are longer, more complex tests such as the Ohio Graduation Test, the ACT/SAT, a bar exam to become a lawyer or a certification test to become a mechanic for GM.  Data used by these tests are what I like to call “Post-Mortem” as they are conducted at the very end, and the results are usually provided to teachers when it is too late to really do much with.  However, while the data is not as useful to the teacher, it does allow schools to examine the impact of particular programs, states to evaluate schools and communities to compare their schools. To continue the GPS analogy, the Summative tests are the voice that tell you where you have arrived.

Between Formative and Summative tests are many different things such as homework, surveys, quizzes, tests, mid-term exams or final exams.  They are all a part of teaching and learning.  A balanced testing system will have both formative and summative tests.  While we trust teachers 100% to provide the turn by turn directions on a daily basis (formative tests) it is also healthy to take a step back and know where we are (summative tests).

Are we required to test?

Yes.  The main federal legislation governing education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires states to test students annually. The requirement started in 1994.  This requirement was strengthened in 2001 with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act when districts were required to begin testing students in grades 3-10.

What Grades and subjects are tested?

Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAAs) were administered in grades 3-8 in the following subjects:

Third grade: Reading and math

Fourth grade: Reading and math

Fifth grade: Reading, math and science

Sixth grade: Reading and math

Seventh grade: Reading and math

Eighth grade: Reading, math and science

The Ohio Graduation Test was administered to Tenth graders and tested the following subjects:

Math

Reading

Writing

Science

Social Studies

What are the new tests?

There is a new set of tests that are replacing the Ohio Achievement tests in reading and math called the PARCC Tests.  PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. These tests are summative tests and are taken online and spread over a number of days (5 separate tests in reading and four in math).  Each test is shorter than the OAAs they are replacing, but overall the students spend more time testing.

For the subjects of science and social studies students will be taking online tests called AIR test. American Institutes for Research developed these tests specifically for Ohio.

Both AIR and PARCC tests are being given to Ohio students right now and are replacing tests schools previously gave in these grades.  The Ohio Graduation Test is being given for the last time to Tenth graders this year while Ninth graders are taking PARCC and AIR tests at the end of some of their classes.  These exams will replace the OGT.

What are the concerns?

There are many concerns with these new tests.  Here are a few of the concerns we are hearing.

Data

Many parents have shared concern for data about their children being shared or used to place them on tracks.  There is also a concern for private personal health data being collected. There is also concern about who has access to the data. To alleviate those concerns, please read House Bill 487, passed into law in 2014.  It clearly explains who will have access and how data from these tests will be used.

Tests are too hard 

There is a concern that the tests are much harder than they OAAs and OGT they are replacing.  This is absolutely true. The tests were created to measure a new set of standards that are more difficult. There is a great deal more critical thinking and problem solving required on these new tests.

There is too much testing

There is great concern among parents, teachers and administrators that there is too much time being devoted to these new assessments.

What is JAG doing about testing?

James A. Garfield Schools support Ohio’s new standards and are excited about technology based tests.  These tests mirror the tests our students will have to pass if they want to attend college or start a career in a trade. We anticipate quicker results from these tests, which may help our teachers know more about their students before they leave for the summer.

This being said, we have serious concerns over the amount of testing that is taking place.  We feel strongly that our testing is out of balance with too many summative tests.  We have been advocating to Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and our legislators to reduce the amount of testing and allow districts more local control over how we gain a summative look at our performance.

We have been communicating with parents about their concerns and provided a forum for them to speak with our representative, Sarah LaTourette, about testing and data.

Sarah  Latourette is also coming to speak with a group of our students about their thoughts on testing on March 13.

Our administrators and teachers have been very active in writing our legislators about reducing the amount of state testing, and I am meeting personally with our local representatives to promote more control over our testing requirements.

While we are working through finding a better solution we are encouraging all students to test.  As the law is currently written (Ohio Revised Code 3317.03 and 3301-13-04), a district cannot include in their enrollment any student who does not test.  If a student is not included in enrollment we do not receive our state foundation funding for that student.

What should I do as a parent/community member?

Very few political changes have come from a Facebook post or bowling alley conversation. The change we need now to gain more local control of how we test our students needs to come from informed conversations with our state legislators. I applaud the nearly 60 parents and teachers who braved the cold to come out on a Friday evening to speak with our state representative Sarah LaTourette.  Just a week after our conversation House Bill 7 was amended to address some of the concerns brought up in our meeting!  This is how lasting change is made.

Testing is a part of teaching and learning. We need to return to a more balanced testing system, and we feel strongly that this should be done with more teacher input.  James A. Garfield Schools will continue to advocate for what is best for our students in this regard. They have performed at an excellent level for years, and we owe it to them to get our testing system to a better place.

I would encourage anyone who may have more questions about testing to contact me directly at 330.527.4336 (office), 216.534.7413 (cell) or tlysiak@jagschools.org. To contact your legislator directly you can find their email and phone numbers by visiting www.legislature.ohio.gov.