K-12 state testing starts amid ongoing COVID recovery

Tests showed Ohio students learned less than usual last year in reading and math. What will this year show?

After last year’s state testing for K-12 schools measured worrying losses in learning during the pandemic, some districts are concerned about what this year’s results will show, even as others argue standardized testing doesn’t give a full picture of what the student knows.

The state testing window officially opened March 14 for English and will begin March 28 for math, science and social studies. Multiple districts are on spring break next week and plan to begin testing after they return.

Students in grades 3-8 will take English and math assessments, grades 5 and 8 will take science assessments and high schoolers must take assessments in math, science, English, American history and American government to graduate. Student test scores are part of an assessment of local school districts the state conducts.

Ohio State research

A study from Ohio State University published last August looked at the results of state-mandated testing done in spring 2021. The study found Ohio students who attended virtual school in the 2020 school year missed the equivalent of a half to a full year in math and between one-third and one-half of a year in language arts, depending on the grade level.

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The study specifically found third-grade students learned about 20% less on average between November 2020 and April 2021, which was between the fall and spring administration of the ELA exam, as compared to students in previous years.

The learning declines were greater for lower-achieving, economically disadvantaged and minority student subgroups and among districts that spent most of the year in fully remote instructions.

Vladimir Kogan, an Ohio State political science professor and co-author of the study, said the amount of help students can get from their parents, especially in reading, outside of school would change based on parents’ time and capacity to help.

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“We think in reading, probably parents are able to supplement or substitute for what students aren’t getting at school and so you’re gonna get some inequalities,” he said.

Local schools’ approaches

Because of the results from last school year’s testing, some districts are concerned about what the assessments will show this year. Area districts implemented additional help for students who were behind, whether that be adding teachers or working with students one-on-one.

Sue Brackenhoff, director of curriculum, instruction & assessment for Fairborn schools, said the district has worked to help students catch up from the measurable learning losses from the pandemic.

“Testing post-COVID provides documentation of the impact of COVID on student learning and validates the need for academic support systems,” she said.

Sarah Schleehauf, assessment, accountability and gifted supervisor for Huber Heights schools, said students have been getting tutoring help and extra teaching since the achievement gap was discovered.

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“We are meeting students where they are, and the state testing will provide us with valuable data to monitor student growth,” she said.

Other districts argued that state testing has a limited application.

“The state test scores are designed to compare one school to another instead of accurately measuring student growth,” said Kimbe Lange, Oakwood Schools director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “We prefer more reliable measures of student performance that allow our teachers to adjust instructional practices based on individual student data. "

Aaron Churchill, an Ohio analyst at the Fordham Institute, an education think tank in favor of testing, said it’s important for the public to have a metric by which to compare school districts.

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“It’s really important for the state, and nation as a whole, just in terms of building the talent and a knowledge base to compete, whether that’s statewide against other states or as a nation to be competitive globally,” Churchill said. “We need to have kids that can read, write and do math.”

The Ohio Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in Ohio, doesn’t support the current system of standardized testing. Instead, OEA said educators should be able to conduct ongoing assessments in multiple formats.

“Teachers are understandably frustrated with instructional time lost to state tests, especially given how hard they are working to address the needs of students whose learning has been disrupted through the last two years of the pandemic,” said OEA president Scott DiMauro.

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