Local educators and parents have until September to weigh in on aspects of the state’s plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act after a draft released in February by the Ohio Department of Education was not well received.
Signed into law in 2015, the federal ESSA replaced the much-criticized No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The ESSA was designed to provide school districts more local flexibility by having each state come up with proposals for education standards, assessments, school-district accountability measures and ways to help struggling schools.
The plan the state released Feb. 2, however, was criticized by district leaders and school boards from around the state for failing to address what they say is an excessive number of required tests for students.
In fact, the plan proposed “no changes” to state tests, partly as a response to complaints that state assessments had changed at least twice in the past three years, said state schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.
He said state officials responded to a demand for “stability” in state tests.
The document also failed to recognize flaws in the ODE’s state report cards, said Marc Schare, a board member for Worthington City Schools.
“They are so complex as to make them incomprehensible to most people, even education professionals,” he said. “Some of the most important data – value-added (measurements), for example – (continue) to be misleading as it does not measure what it says it measures.
“Other areas, such as gap closing, are not widely understood and therefore serve no real purpose since most people ignore them. The data itself could be and should be meaningful, but the interpretation and expression of the data needs some work.”
After hearing complaints about the draft, DeMaria announced in March that he would delay submission of the plan to federal regulators until September. He also established the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Assessments to study “a full range of testing issues,” including state- and district-level tests.
He said the delay would allow more input from educators and parents and help the state begin a comprehensive strategic-planning process.
“The strategic plan will include a clear vision for education in Ohio, supported by a set of goals, strategies, tactics and metrics,” DeMaria said.
Neal Whitman, a Reynoldsburg school board member, said he urges fellow school board members, educators and parents to provide as much feedback as possible by contacting their district leaders, the ODE or their state legislators.
“ODE has said they want to hear from people, so I would think they might want to hear from local school boards since their stance on state testing seems to be, ‘Let’s leave it alone for a while,’ ” he said. “I encourage everyone to contact legislators or let us know about issues they have.”
An overview of the Feb. 2 draft is available at bit.ly/2poljkc. The latest drafts are available at bit.ly/1T1hPdV.
Reynoldsburg resident Beth Thompson said parents should get involved in the ESSA discussion.
“Only a public push will create the big changes necessary in education, like limiting the punitive nature of testing, designing assessments that are truly developmentally appropriate for children, increasing wrap-around services in districts that need them and holding the top administrative decision-makers accountable for the choices made which are adversely affecting our children,” she said.
Thompson said the April calendar of a third-grader at Taylor Road Elementary School included 10 days spent taking state and local tests, representing “half of the total number of school days in April.”
“Part of this is due to state-mandated testing, but the rest are district-level tests,” she said.
She asked Reynoldsburg school board members to “look again at issues related to redundancy and reduce the number of hours spent testing children.”
Thompson said she had attended a town-hall meeting regarding the ESSA at Marion-Franklin High School.
“We were urged to speak to those who might join the revolution,” she said. “I feel strongly that ‘revolution’ is exactly the word that is fitting in this case, regarding the state of education in Ohio. We are not meeting the needs of students, of our babies, in the best and most developmentally and educationally sound manner.
“Testing can only tell a partial story of our children’s strengths and weaknesses and should be part of a larger picture, including teacher observation, projects and classroom performance.”
ODE officials have said Ohio law requires students to take 24 assessments, which include 17 mandated by the federal government. According to their most recent analysis, students spend about 215 hours from kindergarten through 12th grade on state and local tests.
About a third of those hours are state-mandated tests.
Schare said he is personally “OK with the number of tests” but they need improvement.
“I believe the state needs to do more to make the tests more meaningful to both students and teachers, in terms of more immediate feedback and using tests to inform teaching practices,” he said. “I also don’t understand why we can’t give standardized tests closer to the end of the semester or year.”
United school boards
Gary Baker, president of the Columbus City Schools board, invited board members from all 16 Franklin County school districts to join an ad hoc group to discuss the ESSA and advocate for students.
He said school board members from the Columbus, Dublin, Groveport Madison, Hamilton Local, Reynoldsburg, South-Western, Whitehall and Worthington districts have attended at least one of three organized meetings.
“We hope to meet again at the end of this month and either monthly after that or quarterly,” he said.
Baker said he hopes the state ESSA plan would allow for more local control at the district level.
“Public education is the foundation of our democracy,” he said. “We want to be a very positive group that comes together on behalf of students, families and educators.”
Lynn May, president of the Dublin school board, agreed.
“We thought local control would be passed down to each state through the ESSA, but so far that has not happened,” she said. “We know we can have more impact if we join together as one voice, which is why this group is so important.”
Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen also said local control is important.
“The state of Ohio has an opportunity to benefit from the increased flexibility provided by changes in ESSA,” Marschhausen said. “I am hopeful that Ohio leaders will return more control to local school districts, knowing that one size never fits all. Locally elected school boards that engage with communities empower elite cultures within the schools and inspire students to greatness on the path to a brighter future."
Joe Begeny, president of the Reynoldsburg school board, said many Franklin County districts have similar concerns.
“Whether it is testing or charter schools, this ad hoc group would address those concerns and remind legislators who they are working for,” he said. “It is designed to give school board members more opportunities to share what is going on at the district level.”
He said topics discussed thus far at group meetings include the ESSA, charter-school funding, school funding in general and student tests.
“The weight of a majority of school districts saying the same things may garner more attention than just one school district’s opinion,” Begeny said.