Senate leader wants to keep Ohio K-12 tests this spring

House bill would move toward canceling them, but federal waiver not available yet.

Credit: Michael Conroy

Credit: Michael Conroy

Two Ohio House Republicans are sponsoring a bill to cancel state testing for K-12 schools this spring in light of COVID-related disruptions, but the leader of the Ohio Senate does not support that move.

Without Senate support, and with the Biden administration not yet offering federal testing waivers, it seems likely that Ohio students will take their normal state exams when the testing window opens in just over five weeks, on March 22.

Senate President Matt Huffman on Wednesday said Ohio needs to move forward with K-12 testing but drop any penalties that are tied to test performance. He said the tests will provide a look at where students stand on learning benchmarks in a tumultuous year.

“I don’t think we should cancel the testing for this year,” he said.

On Tuesday, state Reps. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) and Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield) testified in favor of House Bill 67. That bill would cancel those tests that are state-mandated and require the Ohio Department of Education to seek a waiver for all federally mandated tests.

Most of Ohio’s K-12 students take state reading and math tests each spring from third to eighth grade, science tests in fifth and eighth grade, and seven end-of-course exams at various times across their high school years. Of those 21 tests, 17 are federally mandated.

“In any other school year, under normal circumstances, I would not be here asking to waive testing requirements,” Koehler said. “However, this year is not like any other school year we have seen. When (the last) students return to school in March, schools need to concentrate on teaching material rather than testing.”

State tests were canceled in spring 2020, as the federal government issued waivers and Gov. Mike DeWine shuttered school buildings in mid-March, moving all students to remote learning as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

In 2020-21, some students have been physically attending school five days a week all year, while others have been learning from their homes for 11 months straight, and a third group has been doing a “hybrid” mix of in-person and online learning.

Preliminary results from two state tests that were administered in the fall (kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading) showed that overall scores “are notably lower than past years,” especially for Black and low-income students. Decreases were worse in schools that had remained fully remote.

Some education groups have said schools already know where students stand based on the diagnostic tests they use regularly. They argue it would be better to spend the time working with students based on those diagnostics rather than spending days and weeks administering more tests whose results are not available until summer.

“Our teachers and school staff have been flexible during these turbulent times and need our support now more than ever,” Bird said. “Ohio students’ time will be much better spent learning as opposed to preparing for these assessments.”