Thursday, June 14, 2001

Ohio changes testing focus

New aim is to head off problems

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sweeping changes in the way Ohio schools test students will trade high-stakes exams for achievement testing to identify ways teachers and parents can help children succeed.

        Gov. Bob Taft on Tuesday signed a bill into law that eliminates proficiency tests that have been a significant source of pressure for teachers, students and parents.

        Among other things, the law eliminates the requirement that, beginning in the 2001-02 school year, students who don't pass the fourth-grade reading test would be prohibited from advancing to the fifth grade. In addition, the five tests jammed into one week for fourth-graders will be spread out from third to fifth grades.

        The new system places more emphasis on diagnostic tests. Schools will now have to administer a state- approved test to measure academic abilities of students in grades K-8. Diagnostic test results will be used to help prepare students for the new proficiency tests.

        “I love that part of it,” said Patricia Brenneman, superintendent of Oak Hills Local School District. “I really think that's good for students and staff so they can get results and can intervene before (students) take proficiency tests.”

        The emphasis has shifted from consequences for students to getting them the help they need, said Patti Grey, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education. The idea is for parents and teachers to see where children are achieving and where they need help.

        Another emphasis is spreading out the testing period, she said.

        Fourth-grade proficiency tests now cover reading, math, writing, science and citizenship in one week. Under the new system, children will be tested for reading in the third grade, math and writing in the fourth grade, and science and citizenship in the fifth grade.

        “It does lift the high stakes off of the fourth grade,” Ms. Grey said. “Everyone heard the concerns about taking five tests in five days.”

        The new third-grade achievement test will first be offered in the 2003-04 school year. The new Ohio graduation test, to be administered in 10th grade, will start with the 2004-05 school year.

        Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski said he's happy to see the state took the example from some of CPS' policies, such as early student assessment in reading.

        The district's second- and third-graders take proficiency tests in reading as part of CPS's own “third-grade guarantee,” which states that all third-graders will be reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Students are assessed beginning in the first grade, he said.

        Dr. Adamowski said he hopes to continue the district's third-grade reading guarantee, which also requires students to take six weeks of summer school if they don't pass the reading requirement.

        School officials said the difficult part will be wading through all of the changes, and making a smooth transition from phasing out tests and implementing new ones.

        “The good piece is it won't change our instruction,” said M.E. Steele Pierce, director of testing and assistant superintendent for West Clermont Local School District. “I'm happy to see they're phasing out the fourth-grade guarantee, and putting in the third-grade guarantee, but it doesn't legislate students being retained if they don't pass the test.”

        Judy Tracy of Deer Park thinks the state should have made good on its plan to retain fourth-graders who don't pass the reading test. Her 10-year-old daughter, Stephanie, took the fourth-grade proficiency test last spring and scored well.

        “To excel in anything in school, you have to be able to read,” Ms. Tracy said. “They're lowering the standards.”

        Schools will still have the option to hold students back.

        “You know as well as I do they won't,” Ms. Tracy said, “and Johnny is going to graduate from high school with a third-grade education.”

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