Thursday, December 14, 2000

Proficiency test overhaul advice out today

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Ohio's controversial system of high-stakes proficiency tests would be overhauled under a proposal that will be handed to Gov. Bob Taft today.

        A final report of the Governor's Commission on Student Success won't officially be unveiled until this afternoon. Portions of the report read to the Cincinnati Enquirer revealed ideas the 33-member panel openly discussed in recent public meetings.

        The report is likely to recommend that the state replace its ninth-grade test with a 10th-grade exam. Unlike the ninth-grade assessment, students would not have to pass the 10th-grade test to graduate until it meets new state academic standards.

        Commission members said last week that reading, writing and math sections of the test are close to meeting those standards. That means students could fail science and social studies and still graduate.

        High schools also would be able to offer students in grades nine through 12 end-of-course exams in selected subjects, instead of the 10th-grade test. But commission members last week speculated such exams may not be available for several years.

        Also scrapped is an idea to put students who repeatedly fail key tests into new in-between grades 4.5 or 8.5. While those students would be promoted to the fifth and ninth grades, the students would have to attend remedial classes to catch up.

        The fourth-grade and sixth-grade proficiency tests, which had students in both grades taking reading, writing, math, science and social studies exams in five days, also would be “spread out.”

        Students in grades three through five and in grades seven and eight would take different portions of these tests each year.

        Two lawmakers who serve on the commission said they expect no surprises in addition to what they've already discussed in public.

        “There's no big, major changes,” said Rep. Brian Flannery, D-Lakewood.

        “Mostly they are (making) fairly minor revisions,” added Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green.

        The panel of business leaders, education officials and lawmakers was formed by Mr. Taft after parents, teachers and school administrators complained that the tests fail to accurately measure knowledge, cause tremendous anxiety among students and stifle creativity in classrooms.

        Most of the public backlash focused on the “fourth-grade guarantee,” a law that required fourth-graders in 2001-2002 to pass the reading portion of a five-subject test before advancing to the fifth grade.

        Those same critics blasted some of the commission's early ideas, including the “in-between” grades, saying they actually would expand the number of high-stakes tests students would have to take.


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