Growing Student Testing Culture is Not a Healthy Development

3o'connorSouth Lebanon resident Jim O’Connor is chair of the social studies department at Princeton High School and father of two middle school students.

The levels of frustration are high and continue to get worse in regard to Ohio schools’ year-round testing culture.

In place of the Ohio Graduation Test exam, the Ohio Department of Education plans to increase the number of End of Course Exams to seven and eventually 10.

Each EOC Exam has two parts, with each part testing on a separate day. One part is called performance-based while the other is traditional multiple-choice. Part one, after 75 percent of the course material has been taught, is graded by humans since it uses written responses. The second part, after at least 90 percent of the course has been taught, is taken on computers and graded by machine. The two separate scores are then combined to form a total score that will be converted to the following scale: 1 – Advanced; 2 – Accelerated; 3 – Proficient; 4 – Basic; 5 – Limited.

Got that?

This two-part testing system and grade scale formula will be replicated for each End of Course Exam. But there is more.

Teachers who do not teach a course with an ODE EOC exam must develop their own assessment to measure their progress as teachers. They are supposed to do this by developing mandated Student Learning Objectives or SLOs. (Do not pronounce the acronym “slows”; that makes ODE administrators mad.)

How do teachers measure their SLOs and student growth? You got it – more testing! This step is part of the new Teacher Evaluation System in Ohio and makes up 50 percent of their evaluations.

Are teachers teaching to the test? Their evaluations and careers are riding on these results.

Thousands of teachers in Ohio are now developing their own high-stakes tests. Are they valid? Who knows. They are are not statistically normed nor do they use field-tested questions. The ODE will not be checking these tests either, leaving it to each local district to determine testing validity. You read that correctly. There are multimillion-dollar testing companies that exist solely to develop tests. Yet individual teachers in Ohio must do this for themselves and hope the results go in their favor.

Count them up, and students are taking 29 high-stakes tests in one year. Multiply that by four years, and you have 116 high-stakes tests. This does not include the summative (shorter, lesson-based assessment) and additional formative assessments (chapter tests, end-of-quarter exams) that teachers often must use.

If you add up all this testing, at least one full academic year is lost in the name of testing. Creative, dynamic teaching suffers under this nonstop testing climate. And the impact on our students? Most researchers conclude that the myriad parade of testing produces, at best, a neutral impact on student achievement.

But the Ohio Department of Education offers an alternative via this statement on its website: “Students who do not earn the required number of graduation points can still meet the requirements for a diploma if they earn a remediation-free score on a national college admission test.”

In other words, all the mandated testing and graduation points get thrown out the window if a student receives a certain (yet to be determined) score on the ACT or SAT.

If those two tests mean so much, why have students sit for more than 100 other tests? Would they not be better served by creative teaching and learning, instead the drill and kill of teaching toward yet another test?