Fewer state tests: Butler County school leaders say it’s good start

New Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller said a proposal Monday by Ohio Department of Education Superintendent Paolo DeMaria calling for a reduction in student testing is a good start but more needs to be done. GREG LYNCH/STAFF
New Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller said a proposal Monday by Ohio Department of Education Superintendent Paolo DeMaria calling for a reduction in student testing is a good start but more needs to be done. GREG LYNCH/STAFF

The new leader of Southwest Ohio’s largest suburban school system said the state education leader’s push for fewer tests is a good but unfinished move.

Matt Miller, recently hired superintendent of Butler County’s Lakota Local Schools, said Ohio School Superintendent Paolo DeMaria’s recommendation Monday to the state school board to cut testing also requires that any changes remain consistent for future school years.

“While we agree and support in theory the reduction in student testing, much remains to be resolved in relation to the result of such eliminations. Assessment is a vital component of education, yet evidence shows there can be a multitude of negative impacts due to over testing,” said Miller, who was hired in March to lead the 16,500-student Lakota Local Schools.

Local superintendents — most notably Hamilton Schools’ Tony Orr and Middletown’s Sam Ison — were among the most vocal of Ohio’s 613 district superintendents in criticizing the number of tests required in K-12, especially for seniors graduating at the end of the upcoming 2017-2018 school year.

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And overtesting was the top complaint at a series of statewide town hall meetings the Ohio Department of Education held last fall.

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The tests also comprise key data in compiling the often-criticized annual state report card on school districts and buildings. Changing the tests would further the debate among some superintendents and school communities that the lack of consistency in the report cards is a dis-service to the public trying to determine the relative quality of one public district — or school building — when compared to another.

DeMaria’s specific proposals to change state testing, rolled out in a presentation to the state board of education, are not immediate, as they would require legislators to agree and approve changes in Ohio law.

DeMaria called for three state tests to be eliminated — fourth-grade social studies, high school English I and high school American Government — as well as eliminating the WorkKeys test for students hoping to earn a diploma via the industry credential pathway.

“Criticism may also surface asserting that students will somehow experience a lesser quality education or receive a diploma with lesser meaning,” DeMaria wrote in a memo to state board members. “I do not believe these criticisms to be valid. We must be firm in our resolve to ensure that such impacts do not happen.”

Miller, who will join the 22-school Lakota school district full time on Aug. 1, was previously superintendent of Mentor Schools in northern Ohio.

He said of the proposal “our hope is that, as the Ohio Department of Education begins to work through possible ramifications, they are open to feedback from the school districts, parents and students.”

“One particular aspect we would like to see incorporated is a consistency, so that whatever system of tests are determined, that standard remains in effect for a number of years,” said Miller.

Middletown school leader Sam Ison echoed Miller, saying there is still more changes needed to improving Ohio’s student testing.

“We are glad the conversation has started and recognize there is still a long way go,” Ison said.

Hamilton City Schools officials said Orr was unavailable to comment.

DeMaria said eliminating the three state tests would have a domino effect of eliminating some diagnostic tests that local districts give to check whether their students are prepared for those state exams.

He also called for an end to locally created tests used solely to meet the requirements of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Those tests, designed by teachers, are used to show student growth, or that a teacher’s students have met Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).

DeMaria’s Advisory Committee on Assessments had gone much further, recommending the end of the state-mandated ACT/SAT, calling for state testing be trimmed to federally required minimums, and arguing that the entire high school end-of-course testing structure be replaced with a “single sitting general content exam covering English, math, science and social studies.”

In declining to present the end-of-course testing recommendation to the state board, DeMaria argued it would create many of the same problems that had plagued the recently phased-out Ohio Graduation Test.

DeMaria said he will support whatever version of the recommendations the board settles on, as Ohio revamps testing under flexibility provided by the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The state school board’s meeting continues today and Tuesday.

If DeMaria’s recommendations were to become law eventually, they would have broad impact on the state’s education system:

  • Eliminating two high school end-of-course exams would require another change to the state's graduation system, just as those tests start determining the primary graduation pathway next school year.
  • Eliminating the WorkKeys test would require changes to the "industry credential" graduation pathway, which launches this year.
  • Changing the number of tests would alter the oft-misunderstood state report card system for schools and districts again.
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