The state’s plan to require almost all high school juniors to take a free ACT or SAT college entrance exam this spring has drawn wildly different responses from local schools.
Those tests will represent one of three pathways to graduation for the Class of 2018 and beyond, so the state is investing roughly $5 million per year to make sure all students can have one crack at a test for free. About 95 percent of districts will administer the ACT, according to state officials.
Kettering Fairmont Principal Tyler Alexander said the plan “can be really good for kids,” while Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Tony Orr said the change shows “a complete disregard for the community we serve.”
“Yes it’s another test, and yes, it’s more legwork to get things set up and running, but ultimately I think this can be really good for kids,” Alexander said. “A few years ago we did an SAT pilot, and we had a lot of students deemed college-ready by Sinclair based on their SAT score who had not been deemed ready on the Accuplacer test. It benefited some of our students.”
Orr bristled at what he called “another one-size-fits-all mandate from the state.”
“The ACT was never meant for all students. It was designed for students who are college-bound, (and) not everyone is going to go to college,” Orr said. “We’re ignoring the unique and special differences of all of the individuals we serve. … And students certainly don’t need another test to take.”
Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill fell somewhere in the middle. He said he’s glad the state is funding another opportunity for kids. But he worried the state will use the results to “grade” schools.
“It turns into additional lost instructional time, especially when it is paired with the seven end-of-course-exams required for graduation,” Hill said. “Further … the test results do not (help shape teaching), nor do they necessarily provide an accurate or authentic measure of student skills.”
In 2015, the median Ohio school district saw 58 percent of its students take the ACT, with a much smaller number taking the SAT. Now the state will pay for the exam (the ACT normally costs $42.50), and schools will administer it on-site during a normal school day, eliminating cost and transportation obstacles for students.
Current juniors are the first group governed by the state’s new graduation pathways. Students still must pass 20 course credits, but instead of the old Ohio Graduation Tests, they must take one of three new testing paths as prescribed by the state legislature.
One path awards diplomas to students who score “remediation-free” in English and math on the ACT or SAT. On the ACT, that requires scores of at least 18 on the English section, and at least 22 on math and reading.
Alexander said Fairmont’s ACT average will go down with more students taking the test, but he disagreed with one of Hill’s points, saying the school will use the test data to change instruction.
“The more data we have, the better prepared our teachers are going to be to provide resources for students,” Alexander said. “We’re going to have data to know where those kids are specifically struggling. We can gear our junior and senior level courses to the ACT. We already gear our freshmen and sophomores to (the state’s) AIR exams.”
But the move to add this test comes at a time when many educators are pushing for a continued decrease in testing. A group of Ohio superintendents argued earlier this year that the state is not taking advantage of new federal education law to cut testing further.
Orr said despite his opposition to the new system, Hamilton schools had students take the ACT last year “to prepare our students accordingly.” Alexander said Fairmont has about 130 juniors doing math prep sessions once a week after school.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, certain students with significant cognitive disabilities or intellectual disabilities will be exempt from the test, as will “limited English proficient” students who have been in U.S. schools for less than two years.
Parent Maureen Beach agreed with Orr’s “one-size-fits-all” complaint, because her son doesn’t fit the state’s exemption list. Colin Beach is a high-performing Centerville junior who suffers from retinoblastoma, which causes tumors in both eyes and has led to permanent blindness in one eye.
The state-administered ACT (March 21 in Centerville) does not include the optional writing test, and Beach is applying to multiple schools that require it. So he had to sign up to take the national ACT on April 8 as well. The problem, according to Maureen Beach, is that an hours-long test can cause severe eye fatigue for weeks in Colin, who also suffers migraines.
“If we’re already registered to take the national test, why do we have to do it again (for the state),” Maureen Beach asked.State documents say most Catholic and private schools can offer an alternative test rather than the ACT, but the principals of Alter, Carroll and Chaminade Julienne all said they’re giving the free ACT to juniors this spring.“We made the decision to take the same test as the public schools to make for easy comparisons for parents when comparing Catholic school to public school when making a decision for their children,” said Alter Principal Lourdes Lambert.