State slows down new curriculum, testing standards

Starting during the 2014-15 school year, all Ohio students will take new assessment tests to measure progress in line with the Common Core standards. A “safe harbor” provision in House Bill 487 approved earlier this month means the first year’s scores won’t affect school rankings or teacher evaluations.

“Originally all the teachers in the state were going to be evaluated on the basis of (test score) growth,” said Springfield City School District Superintendent David Estrop. “Well, that didn’t seem to make much sense when we knew there was going to be little to no growth.”

The Common Core is a set of standards agreed upon by governors and superintendents in 45 states. It recommends when students should be mastering certain math and reading skills. Ohio is one of 14 states and the District of Columbia that will use a common assessment test called PARCC beginning next school year.

Estrop and a number of other educators raised concern late in 2013 that Common Core implementation was moving too fast.

“This was on the fast track for destruction,” Clark-Shawnee Superintendent Gregg Morris said. “We’ve been talking (to lawmakers) for six months, asking them to slow it down.”

When the Ohio Department of Education predicted that up to 75 percent of students could fail new assessment tests during the first year, Estrop said districts and teachers saw the writing on the wall.

“Any teacher or principal is going to say, ‘Wait a minute. The game’s fixed. There’s no way I can get a positive evaluation out of this,’” he said.

Lawmakers said they do expect a dramatic drop in test scores as students adjust to the higher standards and online test format.

The PARCC test is intended to be administered online, but another new provision allows schools who aren’t ready for the online test environment to give the test on paper next year.

“We’re throwing a lot of new things at schools right now,” said Rep. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering.

In addition to the PARCC assessment given in third through 12th grades, high school students will take seven end of course exams in math, science, history and English in lieu of the Ohio Graduation Test, starting with the class of 2018.

“That was our concern, that this would overwhelm teachers, principals, students, parents,” Estrop said. “We are now implementing it in a gradual manner. We’re still headed toward the new, higher standards associated with the Common Core, but we are not going to rush to implement all the assessments and all of the teacher evaluations at once.”

The Ohio Federation of Teachers, which questioned the new evaluation process on behalf of it’s more than 20,000 members, issued a statement following the passage of the bill.

“We are pleased that the final version of the teacher evaluation law approved by the legislature (on June 4) excluded a list of drastic measures piled on by the House in recent weeks as yet another attack on Ohio educators,” union President Melissa Cropper said.

The union was pleased when the Senate version of the bill dropped test score weight in teacher evaluations from 50 to 35 percent. The final version of the bill set the weight at 42.5 percent when the tests begin counting towards teacher scores in 2016.

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