New strategies emphasize OAA tests

Pressure for student success tied to school funding and, soon, to teacher evaluations.

It’s testing season in Ohio schools, and for more than 7,100 students in Hamilton and Middletown that means added pressure as the state-mandated tests are increasingly tied to the funding formula for public schools and as of the 2013-14 school year will count for half of teacher evaluations.

School districts are given a three-week window in late April to conduct the required Ohio Achievement Assessments that measure what students know in subjects of mathematics, reading and science in grades three through eight, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The results are shared with districts in June.

Individual school buildings have freedom in scheduling when the exams will be conducted, and often spread the exams out over two weeks and deploy learning strategies to prepare the young minds, school officials said.

“It’s too bad students work for 160 days but yet they’re only judged on one day,” said Ted Jebens, principal at Rosa Parks Elementary in Middletown.

Jebens said he works with the staff and teachers at the elementary school to ensure the children are over prepared, because often students miss passing the exams by one or two questions.

“All the sudden if you have a lot of students not passing the test, the view is there’s something wrong with that school, but in reality it’s just one question here or there,” Jebens said.

District-wide in Middletown City Schools, students failed to meet the 75 percent passing mark in 14 state indicators for all grades and subjects tested by OAA standards, according to the 2011-12 state report card by ODE.

The Rosa Parks Elementary School, as reported in the 2011-12 report card, met two of seven state indicators required by testing in grades three through five. Students in the third grade met the state requirement of 75 percent passing reading and math.

Within the Hamilton City School District, students in grades three through eight recorded passing marks in nine of the 14 indicators, including third and fourth grade reading and math.

“I (equate) today as the Super Bowl of school,” said Jamie Kunz, principal at Hamilton’s Fairwood Elementary, of OAA testing days.

“I’m not making excuses for my kids this year,” Kunz said. “I’m a first-year principal here and I’m encouraging a new mindset and setting higher standards.”

Students at Fairwood Elementary met three of the nine achievement indicators measured by OAA tests in the 2011-12 school year, according to ODE report cards. Kunz is hopeful Fairwood will have its best year yet.

Kunz said the school has implemented “flexible grouping” this year to identify groups of children based on specific needs and skills. After Christmas break, the groups have met to work on learning strategies.

The new intervention has been a way to complement the existing after-school intervention for grades one through three in reading and grades four through six in mathematics.

“In math the biggest weakness has been in measurements,” Kunz said.

An intervention activity created to make the math content fun included students in grades 5-6 budgeting money to buy concert tickets. Kunz said an added incentive is that students will get a school dance based on their performance.

“We’re trying to make it more interesting and applicable to them,” Kunz said.

Other OAA-related incentives at Fairwood include an ice cream social for fourth grade students based on their use of testing strategies such as being on time and re-checking their work. Kunz said an all-school pep rally was held last Friday in which staff and students performed an OAA Shake instead of the “Harlem Shake.”

At Rosa Parks in Middletown, the school held two Super Saturday sessions for tutoring in math and reading prior to testing week, Jebens said. More than 50 students in grades three through five attended the tutoring.

“The hook to get them in is it will be fun,” Jebens said, with open gym, breakfast, tutoring and lunch.

The two-hour tutoring session was “intensive but fun” with activities surrounding the eight most “highly-tested state indicators,” such as main idea, summarizing and drawing conclusions.

“Everything is focused on making sure the kid succeeds,” Jebens said.

Other motivators around the elementary school include a “Countdown to OAA” and students watched a motivational video by “Kid President” before signing a promise to remember certain test strategies such as showing work on math problems and answering every question.