The decision by the Ohio Department of Education to delay submitting the state’s education plan to federal regulators is raising local educators’ hopes that their voices may be heard.
Ohio Schools Superintendent Paolo DeMaria announced March 13 that the state will delay until September its submission of its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to allow time to create "greater unity and a clearer sense of direction."
"I didn’t want submission (of the plan) to be a divisive event," DeMaria said. "Additional time will allow us [to have] conversations that need to be had."
In January, ODE released a draft on how it will implement the federal government’s new criteria in the ESSA, which will replace the No Child Left Behind. The state’s draft of compliance with the federal ESSA aims to guide student testing, course standards and other school-related issues.
The 118-page report included descriptions of the state’s learning standards, an explanation of testing requirements, descriptions of the state’s goals for student performance and improvement, outlines of how the state supports struggling schools and districts and a review of report cards and other measures to inform about school progress.
The state’s new testing and accountability plan — required under ESSA, the federal law replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind law — proposes no changes in student testing, prompting complaints from educators, parents and others.
According to the Akron Area School Superintendents’ Association, the state had been hosting regional meetings and webinars to allow educators, parents and community members to voice their opinions. However, the association said at the draft’s release, its members "are alarmed that the feedback gathered during these stakeholder meetings does not appear to have been included in Ohio’s plan."
"Obviously, I am very pleased that ODE has postponed submitting the state’s plan to the Department of Education and believe the ongoing advocacy work of school district leaders across Ohio was instrumental in the decision to do so," said Walter Davis, president of the AASSA and superintendent of Woodridge schools.
"I know our members are cautiously optimistic, pleased that the delay has been announced and hopeful the review that our state superintendent has announced will be thorough and inclusive. We are hopeful representative members of our association and other superintendents’ associations across Ohio will be at the table to assist in the work that will be required to revise the plan."
Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said: "Missing from the draft ESSA plan as it stands is a vision for reshaping our current education system to be more reflective of what students truly need.
"We are committed to working with Superintendent DeMaria to craft a plan that changes our education culture from one that currently focuses on testing, sorting, labeling and punishing to a culture that focuses on student well-being, promotes powerful learning, builds teacher capacity and fosters collaboration."
Federal law still requires accountability from states and local districts that public school students are being taught appropriately and being prepared for future college coursework and careers.
That means Ohio’s new plan still requires testing in reading, mathematics, science and other standards, but the state will set those standards rather than being required to meet a plan mandated by the federal government.
Excessive testing — some of it used exclusively to evaluate teachers — was the top concern expressed about the proposed ESSA plan during the public hearings.
Participants had urged the state to reduce the amount of testing, which is allowable under ESSA; however, according to AASSA, the proposed plan maintains the existing levels of testing.
"This is also an opportunity to reduce testing at the high school and replace the end of course exams with the nationally normed ACT or SAT, which are more relevant to our students and their families. All state mandated testing should be consistently maintained for an extended period of time to allow for longitudinal data collection and analysis," noted AASSA.
Department officials have cautioned that many of the tests students take are mandated by state law, and the legislature would need to change laws to eliminate them.
Ohio requires students to take 24 assessments, including 17 required by the federal government. That does not include tests to evaluate teachers and those required by school districts.
A recent analysis by the education department found that students spend 215 hours from kindergarten to 12th grade on testing, or 1.7 percent of their time in school. About one-third of the hours are mandated by the state.
According to ODE, DeMaria is convening a superintendents’ advisory committee on assessments to focus on the full range of testing issues — including state-required tests and district-level tests.
This work will allow for a more thorough and complete review, and recommendations for adjustments to these assessments — both state and local.
Editor’s note: Catherine Candisky of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.
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