Legislators listening to concerns about time spent on standardized tests

Mar 5, 2015

If you talk to a school student, a teacher or a parent these days, you are likely to hear one complaint loud and clear: there is too much testing under new federal education standards. Lawmakers are also hearing that message. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on what they are doing about it.

The Common Core curriculum was designed to make sure students gain an in-depth knowledge of math, reading and writing.  Tests designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, are being used to determine what students know and when they know it. But Columbus City Schools teacher Courtney Johnson says the federal No Child Left Behind program requires too much testing. In a teleconference with news reporters, she explains students now take 14 mandated tests as compared to six before the program went into effect.

Students at St. Joseph Catholic School in Cincinnati practice their school pledge.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

“We are unnecessarily testing kids over and over again in the same subjects," says Johnson. "We know that our students need to know more, yet we follow policy demands that we teach them less. It makes no sense to me. Sometimes 14 days or more of less teaching. So if testing has replaced teaching, what are we testing? We are testing less teaching.”

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown agrees with Johnson. “Too often, kids are inundated and the schools and teachers are inundated with duplicative tests, duplicative tests that take time away from learning and instruction,” says Brown.

Brown is backing a federal bill known as the SMART act.  It would eliminate duplicative tests and would help insure tests are timely and reliable. Brown is not the only lawmaker who is frustrated about the amount of testing required in schools now.

Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner says the new tests mandated by the state require a new format, more technology, are based on a new set of standards, and are expected to be more difficult. She backed a plan, attached to the budget, that protects students and schools from negative impacts of testing this year.

Lehner says, “For the 2014-15 school year only, student test scores on end-of-course exams or on any of the 3-8 achievement assessments cannot be used as a factor to retain a student or promote them to a higher grade, or in any decision to grant course credit.”

Lehner’s bill was passed unanimously by the Senate.  But she’s not stopping there. She wants a committee made up of teachers and superintendents to look into how Ohio should test in the future.

“We have heard a lot about technology, we have heard a lot about the timing," she says.  "We haven’t heard a whole lot about concerns about the content. And that’s one of the things we want to ferret out to find out how real that problem is.”

There is only one parent representative on the committee.  But lawmakers say they are hearing parents loud and clear. They say they are open to making big changes in testing, if the committee feels that is necessary. 

There are widespread reports of parents planning to opt their kids out of certain tests, though there are no solid numbers on how many actually are.

But the state school superintendent is responding. Richard Ross says the Ohio Department of Education is supposed to withhold funding for students who don’t take the tests. But he’s indicated in a letter to districts that he’ll create a waiver so schools can get the money. Ross has also suggested the average time students spend in all grades taking standardized tests be cut back.

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