An Ohio House committee passed a bill regarding state education testing on Wednesday, with the bill looking quite different than its original version. It now extends the period for testing and reporting of grades.
The bill changed significantly because of a decision made last week by the U.S. Department of Education that will not allow blanket waivers of federal testing in schools.
The federal agency said, however, that tests can be shorter and participation can be less than the usual 95% requirement, according to a letter from the agency. Schools can also request that test scores not be counted against them.
Wednesday’s bill passed through the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee along party lines.
Before the committee favorably passed the bill, several amendments were inserted into the bill to make up for the moot federal waiver measure.
“These are all changes to help schools and students be held harmless as much as possible,” said cosponsor Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield.
The bill doesn’t stop state testing, but extends the testing period, including for versions of English, math, science and social studies.
The third-grade English/Language Arts testing period will not be extended from its deadline of April 23, according to Koehler.
“The reason that is, is because those third-grade reports are used to promote kids to the fourth grade,” Koehler said.
The deadline for reporting the third-grade ELA tests is extended from June 15 to June 28 as part of the bill, and reporting for report cards will be moved from Sep. 15 to Oct. 14.
ELA tests for fourth grade through 12th grade will be extended one week, similar to tests in other subjects.
Math tests will continue, and the bill’s cosponsor, state Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, said Ohio has a unique circumstance that forces them to continue math testing. Because Ohio allows integrated math studies that can’t be separated for testing purposes, those tests couldn’t be waived, he said.
The only state test that has been eliminated is American History, which some legislators took issue with, partly because they felt if one test could be eliminated, others could be as well.
“We can waive state testing; we chose one, American History, which right now in our climate is probably the most important one that is taught and tested in our buildings,” said state Rep. Lisa Sobecki, D-Toledo.
Removed from the bill was a provision regarding the ACT and SAT because many schools have already administered those exams.
The Ohio Department of Education was asked about virtual testing ahead of Wednesday’s committee meeting, according to chair Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville.
“These discussions we’ve had with ODE, there’s no way of doing virtual testing,” Manning said.
State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, has expressed in the multiple committee hearings his disapproval of standardized testing as a whole, but said he’d be willing to compromise if the test administration could be expanded further, to include summer tests, for example.
Miller was skeptical about the amount of parents who are placing stock in these state tests over individual evaluations in schools, negating a study of more than 700 parents done by non-profit education organization Ohio Excels, who testified at a previous committee meeting that eight out of 10 parents they surveyed wanted to use state testing as a benchmark for achievement.
“I think you’ll find that not eight out of 10 parents care about the end score of these tests, and you’ll probably get a 30% to 40% participation rate on these exams,” Miller said.
Koehler said he’s received push-back from both sides on the bill and keeping the testing, but said quick passage of the bill would move it along in the legislative process for more discussion in the Senate, and at least bring some relief, rather than leaving school districts to resolve the issues.
“If I could come up with another 90 days to do that, that would be great, but unfortunately last (week), the federal government did something that caused an issue with that,” Koehler said.
Several former teachers on the committee focused on the underlying flaws in state testing, which they said could have been further exposed if sponsors of the bill had done more to halt testing.
“I don’t know that any of these tests are going to give us any information beyond what we already know,” said state Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville. “That we have a lot of problems in administering and in providing education for our students that adequately supports them.”
Supporters of the bill said while it has its issues brought on by the federal complications, those that have had in-person instruction want to see their progress in the way they’re used to seeing it every year, especially when there is no punishment attached.
“Let’s keep the kids in mind and put the differences aside about whether we’re going to do really well or we’re not going to do well,” said state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport. “Because let’s face it, in any given year, students are going to succeed and students are going to fail.”
The bill now moves on for a full House vote.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.