LAGRANGE — Keystone Schools Curriculum Director David Kish said district employees are prepared for new state-mandated tests, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy.
The tests — the Next Generation Assessments — will be rolled out by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career and the state of Ohio next school year in an effort to bridge the gap in education levels among states.
The group, a consortium of 18 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, received a $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education to develop the assessments, according to PARCC’s website. The move came after the state Board of Education adopted the federal “Common Core State Standards” in a variety of subjects, in order to create more uniformity among states.
John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the testing is necessary to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each student. In 2011, 27,000 Ohio third-graders could not read at a proficient level and 40 percent of high school graduates had to take remedial classes in college, Charlton said.
“Ohio has been fairly behind other states and other countries in the education of our students,” he said.
At least 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards, where they are being taught at Keystone Schools. But Kish said he fears that additional testing will create unnecessary strain on the students and teachers.
“I do believe in the standards. I think they’re on target there. I don’t believe in the assessments and how many there are,” he said.
Education experts say that because expectations are higher with the Next Generation Assessments, test scores likely will drop.
Testing will begin in kindergarten, where students will take a seven-part assessment to measure the child’s school readiness. The assessment provides a starting point for each child and does not prohibit any child from entering kindergarten, Charlton said.
Third-grade students must pass one of two computerized reading tests given during the school year or the student will be held back. High school students who do not pass the assessments could be prohibited from graduating.
Charlton said that while standards are higher, school districts had “plenty of time” to prepare. He said final exams could be eliminated to decrease the amount of tests given in each district.
“If you implement these appropriately, you could have fewer tests,” he said.
Kish said eliminating final exams would throw off the grading system, which heavily relies on exams covering classroom knowledge. During a curriculum meeting Tuesday night, he criticized the state’s approach to measuring student success.
“It’s sickening. I don’t think it’s right,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many parents in attendance.
In addition to the new tests, students will continue to take the Ohio Graduation Test, as well as tests to determine advanced placement.
In response to the added requirements, Kish proposed starting the school year earlier this year — before the Lorain County Fair — to get a jump on preparation. Kish said the proposal didn’t make him popular among 4-H members and their families, but he feels it is necessary.
“When it is stated that I’m not ready or that the teachers aren’t ready, that is totally false. We are ready, and we are giving our kids the best opportunity to pass that test and the teachers the best opportunity to deliver the instructions necessary in order to deliver success,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I don’t try to do everything that I can to ensure that success and increase the opportunity for success.”
Most school districts in Lorain County have no plans to change their calendars for the school year, but Avon City Schools Superintendent Mike Laub said uncertainty surrounding the testing has made it difficult for schools to prepare.
The Ohio Department of Education released the test dates online last week, but those dates have since been removed, he said. The computerized testing has required the district to invest in more technology, he added.
“There are a lot of questions, and this has cost us a lot of money,” he said.
Firelands Schools Superintendent Robert Hill said the district is preparing by issuing mock tests, as well as exploring online resources. Hill said he supports higher standards, but has been upset by a lack of answers from the state that keeps changing the testing process.
“It’s kind of like building an airplane in mid-flight,” he said.
Reporter Anna Merriman contributed to this story.