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State superintendent: Change school tests again

DeMaria wants to cut three state tests, which would change graduation requirements.

Ohio schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria recommended a reduction in student testing at both the state and school level Monday, but did not go as far as his advisory committee had suggested.

His specific proposals to change state testing, rolled out in a presentation to the state board of education, are not immediate, as they would require legislators to approve changes in Ohio law.

RELATED: Panel wants graduation pathway without testing

DeMaria called for three state tests to be eliminated – fourth-grade social studies, high school English I and high school American Government – as well as eliminating the WorkKeys test for students hoping to earn a diploma via the industry credential pathway. The advisory committee had recommended more than twice that many testing cuts.

“When you see the work that the committee did, and how overwhelming the feedback was from those meetings around the state, and then to get this little bitty tweak, you scratch your head,” said West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford. “The great news is, they had the committee and they’re talking about it, and they’re making some changes.”

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The state school board did not vote to support or oppose DeMaria’s proposals, according to board member Nick Owens, who represents Clark and Greene counties. He said there is still uncertainty about what changes in testing and graduation rules will be passed later this month in the final state budget bill.

RELATED: 2016-17 was rare year with few testing changes

“It’s late, late in the game in the budget process, so there was a question of whether the legislature would be responsive (to new proposals),” Owens said. “Also, we wanted as a state board to more fully analyze these proposals. … There’s such a will for reducing assessments. When we do it, we want to do it right.”

Owens said if the state legislature does not make changes to the graduation rules specifically for the class of 2018, the state board will take up the issue at its July meeting. Owens said Monday’s proposed reductions in testing would not happen until 2018-19 at the earliest.

Too much emphasis on testing was the top complaint at statewide town hall meetings the Ohio Department of Education held last fall. Local school superintendents protested on that same topic in Columbus in November.

RELATED: Superintendents rally against state testing

“We are glad the conversation has started and recognize there is still a long way go,” Middletown Superintendent Sam Ison said of testing reductions.

But another key complaint of educators in recent years has been the near-constant rate of change in state requirements – three different sets of state tests in a three-year span, followed by a totally new three-prong graduation system … which itself may be changed before the first student graduates under its rules.

“We want stability in the system,” Owens said. “We don’t want to keep revisiting this issue.”

RELATED: Some schools upset with ACT/SAT mandate

DeMaria said eliminating the three state tests he listed would have a domino effect of eliminating some diagnostic tests that local districts give to check whether their students are prepared for those state exams.

He also called for an end to locally created tests used solely to meet the requirements of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Those tests are used to show student growth for teacher evaluation purposes.

DeMaria’s Advisory Committee on Assessments had gone much further, calling for state testing be trimmed to federally required minimums, and arguing that the entire high school end-of-course testing structure be replaced with a “single sitting general content exam covering English, math, science and social studies.”

In declining to present the end-of-course testing recommendation to the state board, DeMaria argued it would create many of the same problems that had plagued the recently phased-out Ohio Graduation Test.

Owens said while he’s a strong supporter of cutting testing, there are “a lot of moving parts to consider,” from changes in the state budget bill, to compliance with federal law, to questions of what tests to eliminate. He said eliminating the high school government test is a “non-starter” for him.

DeMaria said he will support whatever version of the recommendations the board settles on, as Ohio revamps testing under flexibility provided by the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

If DeMaria’s recommendations were to become law eventually, they would have broad impact.

** Eliminating two high school end-of-course exams would require another change to the state’s graduation system, just as those tests start determining the primary graduation pathway for the Class of 2018 and beyond.

** Eliminating the WorkKeys test would require changes to the “industry credential” graduation pathway, which launches this coming year.

** Changing the number of tests would alter the oft-misunderstood state report card system for schools and districts again.

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