In Focus: Challenges Of Standardized Testing In Ohio

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Standardized tests, like the OAA, are designed to help figure out what students know and to gauge the effectiveness of schools and their teachers.

The state requires students throughout Ohio in grades 3-8 to take the OAA, which covers five different subjects: math, social studies, science, reading and writing. The OAA is based on Ohio's Academic Content Standards. 

But for most school districts in Southeast Ohio, the challenges of state standardized tests are not just answering the questions correctly.

Excessive Snow Days

Many schools in Ohio have passed their authorized number of calamity days because of bitter cold weather and snow.

"It makes it hard because every time we come back we are starting over," said Megan Edwards, an 8th grade Math teacher at Southern Local middle school in Meigs county. "Normally you go through the week and you can pick up where you left off the next day. It is almost like every time we come back we have to start over."

Students see the struggle for teachers to get caught up first hand. Sharla Moody an 8th grade student at River Valley Middle school in Gallia County said she notices stressed teachers because they do not have the time to cover information that has been missed due to weather.

Challenges Of Common Core Standards

Weather is not the only issue when it comes to teachers getting students ready for the test. The Ohio Board of Education adopted the Common Core Standards June 18, 2010.

Common Core Standards not only rely on students understanding concepts, but also expect students to be to apply those concepts and explain their reasoning.

Six aspects of the Common Core were created to solve the problem of not being able to accurately define proficiency since each state had its own set of standards. Now 45 states use the standards. The six states not to adopt the standards are Virginia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Alaska.

The Common Core Standards have created what corestandards.org calls key shifts. These shifts are changes that occur because of the different standards in the common core.

In math, Common Core Standards have moved the classroom toward a greater focus on fewer topics. Students need to apply information from past school years to the current school year. There is also a focus with the new standards for students to understand math as more than a set of procedures.

Another key shift is rigor. Under rigor, speed, accuracy and application are stressed.

English language arts and literacy have also had similar changes. The key shift in English classes is toward reading more complex works of text. Students use information from the text to create a better analysis and better understanding of the reading. Books read in the classroom are not only literary fiction, but non-fiction as well.

With the extra aspects added such as application and explanation, Edwards said that some students have trouble doing more than understanding concepts.

Ohio's New Report Cards For Schools

Some schools are also having a hard time reaching the standards set by the state. Ohio has changed the way in which schools are graded. Instead of receiving ratings like "Excellent"  or "Continuous Improvement" schools receive an A-F grade in nine different areas much like the grades students receive on report cards

"Four or five years ago, our schools were tremendous. We made huge strides in our schools," said Kent Wolfe, the principal of Southern Local middle school. "Well, gets to a point now we have gone so high we cannot go much higher."

With the push to do better schools are finding their own ways to motivate students to do well on tests like the OAA.

David Moore, principal of River Valley Middle School said he motivates students by talking about pride and character.

Principal Wolfe said he would do anything that would get the kids motivated to do well on the test. In the past, he said he has shaved his head, had a mohawk, has slept on the roof, and even eaten roaches and worms in an attempt to motivate students. 



Shifting Standards

Janet McGuire, an 8th grade math teacher at River Valley Middle School, said since standards are being given she feels like her hands are tied and she cannot be creative in the classroom. 

"I'm practically told what to test, what to put on the boards, what to teach daily," said McGuire. 

Southern Local Teacher Megan Edwards said that they are doing what the state is asking of them by teaching the standards, but she believes that this might not be in the best interest of the kids. 

"They do not get the whole experience of education like I feel I did," said Edwards. "I do not remember being told you have to pass this test. You need to learn this. It will help you later in life. Now everything is push toward a test instead of a life skill."