A group of 15 Ohio schools, including Reynoldsburg's eSTEM Early College Academy, have received state approval to develop alternatives to Ohio's newest state standardized tests, but the federal government must second that approval.

A group of 15 Ohio schools, including Reynoldsburg's eSTEM Early College Academy, have received state approval to develop alternatives to Ohio's newest state standardized tests, but the federal government must second that approval.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said the schools that were selected to opt-out of the current state tests are a part of an Innovative Learning pilot program to develop alternative tests that would match each school's specific educational program.

"Results of the trial could help shape state testing policies that affect schools statewide," Charlton wrote to the schools in a letter released April 6.

He said the earliest the department expects the schools to begin piloting the alternative tests is the 2016-17 school year.

Reynoldsburg eSTEM Academy Principal Scott Bennett said he applied for a waiver to opt out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests because eSTEM, like other STEM schools, already has many ways students demonstrate mastery of subjects, such as participation in the robotics program and other STEM initiatives.

He and other administrators also believe the current ACT exams are better than the PARCC end-of-course exams for students planning to attend college.

PARCC tests were administered statewide this year, but many administrators and parents were concerned that too many school days were set aside for testing purposes, since the exams require scheduling a 20-day window in the spring for performance-based assessments and a 20-day window at the end of the school year for end-of-course exams.

The tests are being studied by a Senate Advisory Committee on Testing, formed by state Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), who is chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.

Upper Arlington Schools' Superintendent Paul Imhoff is on that committee, as is Adrian Allison, Canton City Schools; Jan Broughton, Fairfield Union Local Schools; April Domine, New Albany-Plain Local Schools; John Marschhausen, Hilliard City Schools; and Keith Millard, Hamilton City Schools.

Bennett said he and other STEM principals will work together to develop the new assessments.

"Our plan is to use the ACT end-of-course exams for the end-of-year portion of testing and then to work with six other STEM schools around the state to develop performance exams," he said.

Former Reynoldsburg Superintendent Richard A. Ross, now state superintendent of public instruction, said developing alternative tests makes sense because many Ohio schools are now offering new career pathways.

"I believe these alternative tests may give us an accurate view of what students on different pathways are learning," he said.

Bennett said the waiver will allow eSTEM to better prepare students for the ACT tests that universities use for college acceptance.

"It also allows us to develop our own performance exams with the help of our university and business partners," he said.

He said the waiver is still dependent on federal approval.

"We hope that will come quickly now that we have state approval," he said. "Once we get federal approval, it will be a five-year waiver."

Charlton said any alternative tests the schools develop would still have to meet state guidelines for rigor and other expectations. He said the tests could also be used for teacher and principal evaluations, as well as state-issued school and district report cards.

Bennett said the alternative tests would allow teachers to spread the testing out over more subject areas and grade levels and give students opportunities "to demonstrate what they know in a unique manner."

Other schools that received state approval to waive the PARCC exams are Bio-Med Science Academy, Dayton Regional STEM School, Global Impact STEM Academy, Great OAKS Career Center, Hughes STEM High School, Marysville Early College High School and Metro Early College High School.

Waivers were also given to Innovation Lab Network Schools in Finneytown Local Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Orange City Schools, Perry Local Schools, Springfield City Schools and Yellow Springs Schools.