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The Problems with Ohio's Testing Regime and Recommendations to Fix Them

We have spent 100's of hours talking to 100's of educators over the last 2 years about standardized testing, and the associated problems. We're under no illusions that the current testing crisis caused by reformers is complex, layered at the local, state and federal levels, and has stakeholders who hold divergent views.

In a perfect world, testing designed to evaluate an education system ought to be grade-span, and only require a sampling of students, akin to NAEP. It is over-kill to test every student in every subject, every year. However, we do not live in a perfect world, therefore Join the Future has identified the following problems, and provides the following recommendations as a way forward

Problem: Technology

The technology deployment for this years testing has been a predictable debacle. Perhaps half of Ohio's schools felt so lacking in technological capacity that they performed the tests on paper. For the remainder, most lacked sufficient technology to perform the testing in a short period of time, instead having to schedule weeks of testing that caused massive classroom disruption.

The testing software itself was a mess. Technology and media specialists in schools spent hundreds of hours, making thousands of tech support calls to testing companies trying to resolve technical problems with the software. Teachers were provided with inadequate training. Some students had to re-take the test up to 3 times because of technical difficulties. One can only imagine the stress a 3rd grader must have felt.

There was a lack of hardware compatibility between PARCC and AIR testing platforms. School IT professionals spent countless hours re-imaging computers to switch between testing use and general use. School libraries and computer labs in schools throughout the state have been unusable for most of the time tests have been taking place.

Technology Recommendations

1. Schools must be provided with the flexibility to offer paper based testing for at least 3 years.
2. Any testing solution must be platform agnostic and work on desktops, laptops, Tablets and Chromebooks alike, without need for special software or re-imaging.
3. Educators must be provided with adequate time to train on the platform.
4. Students must be given adequate practice time with the testing platform. They don't need to be taking 2 tests in one - one on the intended content and the other on how to navigate a complex software product.
5. Schools must be provided with adequate resources to purchase compatible technology capable of testing the entire student population within one week.
6. Schools must be provided with adequate resources to ensure they have bandwidth to perform the testing seamlessly.

Problem: Testing Time

Testing cannot consume weeks and weeks of instruction time, and be repeated. Schools spent almost the entire month of February in a state of disruption, made worse by inclement weather and snow days, only to have to perform yet more tests in April. If schools had lost the entire month of February to 4 feet of snow it would have been viewed as a statewide crisis, yet that is the practical effect testing had on schools this year.

Testing Time Recommendations

1. Tests need to be shorter.
2. Tests must be align with a typical classroom schedule, e.g. if a typical classroom period is 30 minutes, the tests cannot be 40 minutes. That disrupts two periods and the subsequent schedule all day.
3. Schools need enough infrastructure to perform the tests in a single week, just once a year.

Problem: High Stakes

Attaching high stakes to a new and unstable testing regime is unfair and has caused lasting damage to morale and motivation. Stories of students getting physically and mentally sick with anxiety are common place. Educators have faced a high stakes evaluation system under constant change. Furthermore, it is becoming apparent to most students that the tests don't matter. Outside of 3rd grade and HS, the results of standardized testing has no impact on students, but deeply affects educators and their schools. This mis-alignment of stakes is a huge problem.

High Stakes Recommendations

1. Implement at least a 3 year moratorium on high stakes consequences until the system matures and proves itself.
2. Stakes must be aligned. It is simply not fair or appropriate for educators to face career consequences for tests students are taking, where the students themselves have no stake in the result. We recommend the elimination of student tests scores as a means to measure teacher quality at the individual level.

Problem: Inappropriate Test Content

Testing has been widely criticized for being age inappropriate. Many test questions were deployed at reading ages much higher than the target age range of the test takers. Often times, especially in Math, the root question itself might be appropriate, but couched in language far too complex for the student to comprehend. Not only does this need to cease, it needs to be investigated.

Reports that questions have spread across multiple pages or screens, forcing a student to remember large blocks of complex text, while navigating back and forth have been widespread. Students should be evaluated on content knowledge not their memories or ability to navigate complex software products

Test Content Recommendations

1. Tests must be age appropriate in content and reading level.
2. Questions must be easily navigable, or compact so that students can concentrate on the answer and not a page flipping ordeal.
3. The State should have a review panel to vet test questions in advance, with the ability to veto inappropriate questions.
4. An element of a testing companies contract should be tied to the appropriateness and accuracy of the tests they provide.
5. Test questions and their answers should be made public within 4 years.

Problem: Useful Results

Parents, students and schools should not have to wait 6 months to receive results, especially results performed electronically. By the time this years results are made available, many students will have moved classes, schools, districts and maybe even out of state.

Results need to provide more than a meaningless score. Educators would benefit from results that include identifying a students strength and weaknesses.

Furthermore, who is grading the tests needs to be closely examined. There has been widespread reports of craigslist advertisements for tests scorers, who require little training or knowledge.

Test Result Recommendations

1. Results should be available before the end of the school year, with a portion of a testing companies contract tied to timely delivery of results.
2. Results should include a description of where a student excelled and performed poorly.
3. All test answers should be publicly available within 4 years, with a portion of a testing companies contract tied to accuracy.
4. A system of qualifying test scorers, and evaluating their accuracy is needed.

Evidently the problems are significant and will require time to implement. Policy makers must resist the calls from corporate reformers for quick fixes. It has been their influence and misguided advice that has navigated us in to this crisis. If a test is being performed in a school the first questions ought to be how does this benefit the students education? Is the benefit of the test proportional to any of its impacts on student education?

Parents, students and educators alike would like to see a reduction in the total volume of testing, with the testing that remains primarily aimed at improving student learning.

Lawmakers Move to Block Unionization of Ohio's Charter Schools

Ohio's charter schools are notorious for poor pay and conditions, often treating educators as temporary help. In recent months a number of Ohio's charter school teachers had begun to either contemplate, organize or vote to unionize in order to be able to collectively bargain better conditions and benefits.

It seems the high priced lobbyists that charter operators hired to ward of any meaningful reforms have been busy with a side project to put a stop to employees being treated like professionals. Buried in the Ohio House's substitute budget bill is this little nugget

Excludes community school employees from membership in the State Teachers Retirement System and School Employees Retirement System if the employees elect to organize under federal collective bargaining laws and the community school is subject to those laws.
It is unlikely that employees would organize knowing they would lose their pension benefits - one of the few benefits charters are forced to provide. This is a pretty ugly coercive piece of legislation that serves only to enrich for-profit charter operators at the expense of educators.

If ever you needed proof of what Ohio's charter experiment is really about, this is it.

The State Of Testing Legislation In Ohio

Here's a rundown of the current state of testing legislation in Ohio

House Bill 7 (Buchy): “Student Safe Harbor”

HB 7 assures that PARCC and end-of-course exams would not be used as a factor in any high-stakes decisions that determine whether students are promoted, retained, receive course credit, etc. during the current school year. This does not include retention under the third grade reading guarantee as the OAA is used for that purpose this year. The bill also provides more flexibility to retake end-of-course exams and ensures schools will not lose funding for a student who does not take state assessments during the current school year. The bill contained an emergency clause and signed into law on March 16th.

Senate Bill 3 (Faber/Hite): Education “De-Regulation” and Testing Provisions

In addition to provisions that would exempt “high-performing” districts from a number of regulations, SB 3 contains many of the legislative recommendations from Superintendent Ross’s report on reducing testing time. Notably, the bill does not include the elimination of SLOs for teachers in pre-K to 3 and grades 4-12 in non-core subjects. On the testing front the bill would:
  • Make writing and math diagnostic tests optional (rather than required) in grades 1-3.
  • Eliminate the fall administration of the third grade reading test. The test would be administered in the spring. Summer administration of the test and alternative assessments would be available for those who need to pass the third grade guarantee.
  • Put a time cap of 2% of the school year on state/district required testing and a time cap of 1% on practice for tests. Districts could exceed the caps with passage of a school board resolution after at least one public hearing.
SB 3 was also amended on March 24th to set the student growth measure in the OTES alternative framework at 35% (rather than 42.5%) and the teacher performance percentage at 50% (rather than 42.5%). The amendment also allows the use of multiple measures to fill the remaining 15% in the alternative framework. SB 3 was passed by the Senate by a vote of 24-9.

The Senate has also established an Advisory Committee on Testing comprised of teachers, administrators and others to make recommendations to the Senate on whether to keep or adapt the new tests or adopt an alternative. They are expected to issue recommendations by early May.

House Bill 64 (R. Smith): State Budget Bill

As introduced, HB 64 follows Governor Kasich’s executive budget recommendations. The bill included all of Superintendent Ross’s legislative recommendations on testing including the elimination of SLOs for teachers in preK-3 and grades 4-12 in non-core subjects. The bill would:
  • Put a time cap of 2% of the school year on state/district required testing and a time cap of 1% on practice for tests.
  • Make writing and math diagnostic tests optional (rather than required) in grades 1-3.
  • Remove the fall administration of the third grade reading assessment. The test would be administered “at least once annually.”
  • Require (beginning in 15-16) that a teacher's student academic growth factor be determined using a method established by the Department of Education for teachers for whom value-added data from assessments, either state assessments or approved- vendor assessments, is unavailable.
  • Allow the student academic growth factor to count for less than 50%, but not less than 25%, of a teacher's evaluation if the method determined by the Department applies.
The budget bill is still pending in committee and has yet to be revised by the House from Kasich’s initial budget proposal.

House Bill 74 (Brenner): Testing Revisions

HB 74 is currently before the House Education Committee and includes many of the provisions of Rep. Brenner’s testing legislation that cleared the House last session, with some notable changes and additions. The bill would:
  • Limit each assessment or end-of-course exam to no more than three hours.
  • Require that ODE put out an RFP for new assessments for which multi-state consortium are ineligible.
  • Change graduation requirements by reducing end-of-course exams to 5: eliminating English II and geometry.
  • Eliminate the requirement of online testing for 15-16.
  • Establish numerous studies or actions for ODE or the state board: security of student data, use of tests for multiple purposes, online use, capacity for online readiness, comments on content standards.
  • Eliminate writing and math diagnostics grades 1-3 with the exception of math in the 2nd grade.
  • Limit KRA to one hour and allow districts to administer beginning August 1st.
  • Require ODE to develop a measure for student growth that must be used by all districts that entered into an MOU to not use value added data on next year’s evaluations.
  • Have SBOE revise teacher evaluation framework to reduce time needed.

Thanks to OEA Government Relations for compiling.

Ohio's Lawmakers Propose Killing PARCC

We recently spent the day with about 100 educators discussing education policy issues with legislators from around the state. It was clear from those discussions that legislators were fed up with the testing blowback they are hearing from parents, educators and students.

As a response to this crisis, the Ohio department of Education had put forward some modest proposals to reign in over-testing. Proposals that the Governor echoed when he introduced his budget. The Senate Education Committee chair, Sen Lehner formed a Senate Advisory Committee on Testing to analyze the problems and come up with some solutions.

We had expected legislators to wait until the Senate Advisory Committee on Testing had produced a report before any further major changes were proposed. However that appears not to be the case with PARCC itself, the poster child of over-testing, being the target.

In the Ohio House's substitute budget bill, there is this amendment

Prohibits GRF appropriations from being used to purchase an assessment developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for use as the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments.

Requires the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments to be "nationally normed, standardized assessments."

Prohibits federal Race to the Top program funds from being used for any purpose related to the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments.
Things are about to get very interesting in the high-stakes world of high-stakes testing.

State Board of Ed Member: It's Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies

District 3 State Board of Education Member AJ Wagner has written this letter to Sen. Peggy Lehner regarding over-testing

Dear Senator Lehner and Members of the Committee:

I am writing to you to share my opinion which is formed by the February 2015 Policy Memo from the National Education Policy Center on "Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-focused Policies." I urge you to carefully consider the analyses and recommendations in this Memo.

A compelling body of research exists about the problems with test-focused reforms, as described in the Memo. (available online at http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/esea). Key concerns include:

i) Research suggests at least two major problems with test-driven school reforms. First, the tests themselves have validity issues. The resulting scores are only loosely linked to the wide array of topics and depth that we all want for our students. So attaching high stakes consequences to those test scores results in decisions being made on weak data. Second, and probably even more important, when we attach high stakes consequences to test scores we change what and how our children are taught. This is not always bad, since much of what is tested is indeed important. But the overall effect is to narrow our children's learning opportunities, squeezing out important and engaging lessons.

ii) Not surprisingly, then, we now face the failure of more than a decade-and-a-half of test-focused reforms. Even though we've been focusing on the content of our tests and even though we've been preparing students to demonstrate knowledge on tests, the testing trends after No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) implementation are almost identical to the trends before NCLB's implementation. Not only did we come nowhere near the NCLB goal of almost-universal proficiency on standardized tests, we gained no benefit at the cost of broader, deeper learning - and at the cost of pursuing evidence-based practices that could have helped our children.

I urge moving away from test-focused reforms, and to a state role that encourages a focus on sustained and meaningful investments in practices shown to be effective in improving the educational opportunities and success of all students, particularly those in highest need. There are no magic wands, and the formula for success is very straightforward: children learn when they have opportunities to learn; closing opportunity gaps will close achievement gaps. Key recommendations from the Memo include:

i) Assess students, teachers, and schools using frameworks that paint a more robust, accurate, and complex picture, with multiple data sources and scientifically credited methods of analysis. For example, for students, we might look at authentic performance assessments (http://fairtest.org/k-12/authentic assessment), and for schools, we might look at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform's "Time for Equity Indicators" (http://timeforequity.org) or the National Education Policy Center's "Schools of Opportunity" criteria (http://opportunitygap.org).

ii) Enrich opportunities through proven interventions such as high-quality early-childhood education beginning before birth. Extend learning time in ways that engage students, rather than just more time on drill-and-kill test preparation. Demand more of our schools, but only when providing the supports for students and teachers to succeed. Address problems not only at the level of individuals, but also at the level of systems. Test-focused reforms detract attention from deeper and more systemic factors that can hinder any student's opportunity for success, including such factors as poverty, racial segregation, inadequate resources, narrow and ineffective curriculum and assessment.

iii) Involve students, families, educators, and educational researchers in more substantive ways in decision-making processes involving educational policy and reform. It is particularly important to have powerful, listened-to voices arising from the communities that have been targets of educational reform.

This is a brief summary of the Memo, a document supported by over 2000 researchers and professors from colleges, universities, and other research institutions throughout the United States. I urge you to, please, consider the evidence based practices put forth by the National Policy Education Center.

My prayers and best wishes are with you for these important Deliberations.

Judge A.J. Wagner, Retired
Member of the Ohio Board of Education
District 3
(c) Join the Future