Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Lower passing grade urged

Bill would ease proficiency test

By Debra Jasper
Columbus Enquirer Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A bill introduced Tuesday in the Ohio Senate would lower the score needed to pass the fourth-grade proficiency test and eliminate two portions of the exam.

        The bill, proposed by state Sen. Robert Gardner, R-Madison, is the first in what is expected to be a series of moves by legislators to relax proficiency testing standards and make it easier for elementary school students to get promoted.

        Beginning in 2001-2002, fourth-graders must pass the reading portion of the five-section proficiency test to advance to fifth grade.

        Mr. Gardner's bill would drop the score needed for passage from 80 percent of the questions answered correctly to 60 percent. The bill also eliminates the science and citizenship portions. Remaining are the reading, writing and math sections.

        Mr. Gardner, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the score needed for passage is too high and was initially set to identify students lagging behind their peers.

        “It's somewhat unrealistic to promote only those students who score 80 percent or above when school districts generally place the cut-off around 60 percent for course work failure,” he said.

        He also said science and citizenship should be eliminated so teachers can instead focus on ensuring students are prepared for the reading portion of the fourth-grade test.

        “From kindergarten through grade three, children learn to read,” he said. “From the fourth grade through the rest of their lives, they must read to learn.”

        Mr. Gardner, who is also chairman of Gov. Bob Taft's Commission for Student Success, said teachers would still be required to teach science and citizenship, but students would not be tested in those areas until the 6th, 10th and 12th grades.

        The bill may become a vehicle for other proposals to amend the tests, which were adopted by the legislature to promote more accountability but have been criticized as being too difficult.

        State Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, who was just elected to the Ohio Senate, said he doubts the governor's Commission for Student Success will recommend dropping the science and civics portions of the exam.

        Randy Gardner is a member of the commission's subcommittee that advocates spreading the tests out over three years and three grade levels. It would also make holding back a student an option and not mandatory.

        Instead of taking a “battery of tests” at the fourth-grade level, students under this plan would take a reading and writing test in third grade, a math test in fourth grade and a science test in fifth grade.

        “That would take away the problem of making students go through an exhaustive week,” Randy Gardner said. “It allows schools flexibility and they would not have the pressure of test week, which causes so much unnecessary tension in our schools.”

        But even that solution doesn't satisfy some outraged parents and educators opposed to all “high-stakes tests,” which they say traumatize children and leave too many kids behind.

        Mary O'Brien, Ohio coordinator for Fairtest, a nonprofit national organization which wants to end the practice of failing children who score low on proficiency tests, said the subcommittee's plan actually steps up testing instead of devaluing it.

        “It puts into place testing from the third grade on after,” she said. “They are going to test kids in every grade.”

        Ms. O'Brien, the mother of five boys who have attended Upper Arlington schools in suburban Columbus, said she is worried about revising the tests.

        “The really scary part of all this is that none of these people are qualified in any way to put together this proposal,” she said.


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