Standardized testing faces cuts in Strickland budget

Jeremy Hebebrand

The Ohio Department of Education’s budget for testing has been reduced. Because of the budget cuts, the state has suspended four state tests for two years.

Writing tests for fourth and seventh graders and the social studies tests for fifth and eighth graders will be put on hold until 2011.

“The department is looking to save $8.8 million over two years with these suspensions,” said Scott Blake, media relations specialist for the ODE.

The savings will come from distribution and collection of the testing packets from the schools throughout Ohio. The ODE itself does not grade, distribute or collect the tests but pays a company to do it and reports the statistics back, Blake said.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to give reading and mathematics tests for third- through eighth-graders and science tests for fifth- through seventh-graders, thus the suspensions in writing and social studies, Blake said.

Writing and social studies tests are usually optional tests for schools, but most give them to students because they are important, Blake said.

Test results showed poor performance in social studies. Statewide, 51 percent of eighth-graders and 61 percent of fifth-graders passed the tests in May, according to data released by the ODE.

Tom Larkin has been the principal of Stanton Middle School in Kent for three years, and the school has given tests in all subjects for each of those years.

“These tests are important,” Larkin said. “They not only help us see how our students are doing but also how well we are doing as a school.”

The schools receive a wide variety of data from the Ohio Achievement Tests, and it can be looked at in different ways, Larkin said.

Based on the data, the school can see how students have grown over different grade levels and see where they’re struggling.

“If we look at the data from the sixth, seventh and eighth grade and see that there has been some struggling in a certain subject, then we can adjust our teaching accordingly to help students,” Larkin said.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that every student take the standardized tests outlined by the state.

“Every student in the school takes these tests,” Larkin said. “It doesn’t matter their race or if they are disabled or are in a bad economic situation; we test everyone. It is important to see where all of our students are doing well or struggling.”

The state mandates many standards teachers must meet in the classroom. Ohio has the second most content standards, and these standards are important to student learning, Larkin said. Without guidance in writing or social studies and no tests to demonstrate their understanding, the students in those two years are missing out.

Peggy Henry, a teacher at Stanton Middle School, has been teaching reading, writing and mathematics for 31 years.

“There is definitely a lot more pressure to hit the standards given by the state,” Henry said.

The standards are specific and outline what has to be taught, but there is still flexibility for extra studies. Henry said the standards are adequate, but she thinks there are a few things that could be eliminated.

“Writing is definitely important to students,” Henry said. “Without testing it, I don’t think students will be able to demonstrate their learning as much.”

Passing the Ohio Achievement Tests that are given in the elementary and middle school levels is not required to advance to the next grade level. The tests are used to record statistics and to gauge how well the school system is doing as a whole.

Contact public affairs reporter Jeremy Hebebrand at [email protected].