Frequent Changes to State Tests Has Created Confusion and Disruption in Ohio and Indiana

 

District superintendents in Ohio and Indiana separately raised concerns about state assessments and reporting.

 In Ohio, school officials cautioned parents not to read too much into recently released school report cards, citing three different tests over the same number of years as the primary reason districts have seen grades worsen, The Suburbanite reports.

“It is like going to find treasure without a map,” says Green Local Schools Superintendent Jeff Miller. “We are all trying to figure out where to put our time and resources.”

Others, however, have been critical of the reporting system. “When you have districts going from A to F and F to A, there is certainly something wrong with the calculation,” says Russell Chaboudy, another Ohio superintendent.

Woodbridge Local Schools Board passed a resolution criticizing Ohio’s “test and punish philosophy.” The resolution alleges the accountability system usurps the role of local education boards and districts to control their education programs, Akron.com reports.

In Indiana, superintendents from across the state endorsed a letter to the state General Assembly from the Indiana Urban Schools Association that criticizes the state’s efforts to fix or replace the ISTEP assessment for moving too slowly.

Development of a new test is “an example of making a decision out of sequence,” the letter states. “The State may be reaching a decision identifying an assessment before reaching decisions about how schools and districts will be held accountable.”

“We are all just a little bit over this constant high-stakes testing,” Jeff Hendrix of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents told the Indianapolis Star. “And we don’t see a real purpose or service to our students. It serves a political agenda.”

However, as we have noted before, the real culprit for the confusion are those states’ decisions to “go it alone” by implementing independent assessments – and constantly changing their tests.

In Ohio, district grades are down as students were forced yet again to take a new test for the first time and as a result smaller percentage of students met or exceeded proficiency targets on statewide assessments. State officials replaced the PARCC exams with an independent test created by the American Institute for Research – the third statewide test in as many years.

Continually changing tests leaves teachers and students in a lurch. “The folks up there in Columbus keep moving he finish line,” one district superintendent put it. “Enough. Stabilize the system.”

Indiana’s troubles are similar. In 2013, the state exited the PARCC consortium, instead contracting with CTB McGraw-Hill to update the decades-old ISTEP exam. After going through technical and scoring problems, lawmakers voted to replace the test by 2018. It will be the second test in two years, and state leaders say the proposed timeframe may not provide enough time to develop and implement a replacement.

One Indiana educator told Chalkbeat that changing state tests creates even more anxiety for teachers and students: “I work with students who have test anxiety normally, and so if you just compound that by 10, that’s kind of what we’re facing.”

Another Indiana teacher echoed that point: “It’s just like anything. You’ve got to stick with it long enough to see whether or not it works.”

Both Indiana’s and Ohio’s examples underscore the dangers of pursuing independent assessments to pacify opponents. As Jim Cowen noted before, states that have “gone it alone” have overwhelmingly experienced disruptions, technical problems and hefty costs. At the same time, they have jeopardized their ability to compare score results with other states, and very likely may end up with inferior tests.

The suggestion that policymakers should scrap assessments altogether, as some have, is not the right answer. Doing so would create even more disruption for schools, and limit information parents and teachers need to support their children.

Ohio’s and Indiana’s examples should bolster other states’ commitment to raising the bar for students and to measure students to those higher expectations. Across the country, a majority of states experienced improvements in student proficiency in math and reading this year. Those gains suggest that by keeping standards high and sticking to that commitment, states will continue to deliver better student outcomes.