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State considers new 5-year education plan that shifts away from tests

The Ohio Department of Education is constructing a new five-year strategic plan — dubbed Each Child = Our Future — aimed at building a more effective state education system to help position students for success upon graduation.

A draft version of the plan earned praise from some for moving away from emphasizing test results.

The draft includes a broad vision statement about building graduates who contribute to society, brief goals about increasing the percentage of graduates who are on a successful path within one year of leaving high school, and 15 strategies to help educators get students to those benchmarks.

“So many times we’re reacting to stuff, and this is our chance to really think forward,” state school superintendent Paolo DeMaria said. “What are the areas that we think we need to work on to drive a continuous improvement mindset, to improve the work of the education system of the state?

ODE has been holding public meetings across the state in the past month — including one in March at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton — to get feedback on the draft version of the plan. Four more meetings remain, including April 11 in Wapakoneta and April 17 near Norwood in Cincinnati.

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The draft plan is also accessible online (search “strategic plan” at www.education.ohio.gov), and gives online viewers the ability to comment through April 13.

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, attended last week’s session at Stivers. She applauded DeMaria and ODE for an inclusive process that listened to many key stakeholders. She said participants at the Dayton meeting liked the focus on social-emotional learning, well-rounded education and “helping students find their chosen path rather than on simply raising test scores.”

“The plan represents a shift from an over-emphasis on test results to an emphasis on foundational knowledge, well-rounded content, critical reasoning, and social-emotional skills with a goal of making sure that upon graduation, each child has what he or she needs to be successful in the next stage of life,” Cropper said.

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The draft plan identifies three key challenges the state must address — preparing students for an unpredictable era given the speed of technological change, addressing inequities where some students have better educational opportunities than others, and developing “the whole student” via social-emotional skills beyond just academics.

DeMaria said regardless of the pace of change, there are certain fundamentals the state needs — strong leaders in schools, community partners that can help in a variety of ways, and teachers equipped with best instructional practices but also the ability to understand each student’s needs.

The draft plan includes 15 strategies to help the state achieve its educational goals. Four deal with ways to improve early-childhood education. Others suggest new ways to assess students’ abilities, to improve school culture and to transform high schools so more students graduate with college credit or career or military training.

Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas, who attended the Stivers event, said the long list of detailed strategies should be phased in a few at a time so implementation teams can focus on them. He said he likes the broad focus of the plan, and hopes it can stabilize education reform in a less political way.

“My hope is we can move past the ranking and sorting of schools and students and move to a system that promotes creativity, problem-solving, perseverance and collaboration,” Thomas said. “These were essential skills for many great industry and thought leaders of the past, and we need those type of thinkers again.”

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