Saturday, May 26, 2001

State proficiency tests to be spread out next year

Goal: reduce students' stress

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The state will extend proficiency tests for Ohio's fourth- and sixth-grade students over two weeks beginning next year, a Department of Education official said Friday.

        The goal is “to spread those five tests over a two-week time frame so we can reduce the amount of stress,” said Bob Bowers, an Education Department official in charge of curriculum issues.

        Many parents and teachers have criticized the week of testing as too stressful and anxiety-prone, citing anecdotes of upset children overwhelmed by the pressure.

        The issue arose as lawmakers drafted Senate Bill 1, an overhaul of the way Ohio tests its schoolchildren. The bill, approved by House and Senate lawmakers, would scrap Ohio's current fourth- and sixth-grade proficiency testing and create a new series of achievement tests in third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades. It incorporates recommendations made last year by Gov. Bob Taft's Commission for Student Success.

        During the transition, students would continue to take the fourth-grade proficiency tests for the next three years and the sixth-grade tests for the next five, according to a Department of Education plan.

        Some parents and educators liked the idea of extending the tests, while others saw it as simply prolonging the stress, said Sen. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican who worked on the bill.

        Dee Morgan, deputy superintendent for academic achievement for Columbus city schools, said the two-week testing period sounded positive.

        “At fourth-grade particularly they tire out so quickly,” she said. “Other than extending the stress factor for a longer period of time, if you're allowed to let kids take a little more time with the tests, that would help.”

        Related changes in Senate Bill 1 also have districts wondering which academic standards — the current or the proposed — to test students on in the next two years.

        “We're teaching apples and they're testing oranges,” Ms. Morgan said. “If we teach to the old standards, it will be difficult to pass the new tests, and if we teach to the new standards, it will be difficult to pass the old test.”

        The challenge for districts is preparing students for the current proficiency tests even as they get ready for the new achievement tests, which begin for third-graders in the 2003-04 school year.

        The state is drafting a plan that will explain the differences between the old and new standards to make the transition as painless as possible, Mr. Bowers said.

        Mr. Taft on Friday said the state is aware of the burden that phasing in standards places on school districts.

        “We want to do it right this time,” he said. “We want to give plenty of lead time, we want to get a lot of comment, a lot of input on these standards from teachers and educators across Ohio and then move them out well in advance of when children will be tested on them.”


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