Standardized test discontent

Students in third grade through high school are hard at work filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils as spring progresses, all while a national movement of protesters has surfaced, determined to make waves regarding the disapproval of standardized tests.

In Ohio, students in third through eighth grade are starting the spring Ohio Achievement Assessment tests shortly after high school students, beginning in 10th grade, took the Ohio Graduation Tests.

New state law requires third grade students to receive a minimum score on the reading test to pass third grade, while the OGT tests require a passing score for a student to receive a diploma.

In Ohio, parents can legally withhold their child from taking a state-mandated test, but boycotting has consequences for parents, teachers and schools.

“The law requires school districts to offer the test, but it doesn’t require that students take the test,” said John Charlton, media spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education. “Parents will occasionally disagree with tests and have the option to refuse them, but there are consequences.”

The move is rare, Charlton said, and usually occurs in large city districts, like two cases recently in Columbus.

But no matter how rare, if parents wish to opt their children out of tests, a school has to provide a written explanation of the consequences, and parents are asked to document their refusal in writing.

Frankie Sergent, a mother of three students at Warren Elementary, said she was not even aware that parents could just make their children “skip” a standardized test.

“It depends on the child. If they’re lacking in a subject or struggling, taking those tests can be a serious issue, because it is only done one way,” Sergent said.

Bill Wotring, principal of New Matamoras Elementary, said many of the issues parents have with testing has come with the new Third Grade Reading Guarantee, but said from an education standpoint the testing is absolutely necessary.

“In most regards it makes sense that a student comes to school in general and the goal is that they have to learn to read and do well,” he said. “By third grade, they need to be able to read lengthier stories and get the meaning out of it.”

Lindsay Lester, whose daughter will be headed into the realm of the OAA’s in two years at Warren Elementary, said though she was not aware that there was no state law forcing a student to take standardized tests, she feels more comfortable with her daughter’s education with the testing system in place.

“I want to be able to know that they’re passing and doing well and that they’re learning something,” she said. “If we don’t have things like that, how would we really know if children are learning what they’re supposed to learn by certain ages?”

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which highlights the disadvantages of standardized tests, feels that the bubble-in test impedes what should be a critical, creative learning process.

In a 2012 report, the organization wrote that tests “do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field,” and that their use “encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking.”

Charlton said the state advocates heavily for school choice and parent autonomy, but said the tests are meant to benefit students and educators, not hinder them.

“We need to find out their strengths and what they can improve on, and those tests allow teachers to see where students are so they can help them,” he said.

The consequences for students who skip the OAA test in third grade and the OGT in high school are a bit more obvious; failure to do so makes the student eligible to be retained to third grade or they cannot receive a high school diploma.

On a broader level, a movement of boycotting can hurt the school and the district as a whole.

“Poor participation can result in state and federal penalties from No Child Left Behind,” Charlton said. “That one or two or 10 students who don’t take it will count against the percentage of students who are not proficient.”

The Ohio Department of Education stresses two key points in the debate against testing.

Students are given multiple chances to test, and the Next Generation Assessment tests rolling out next year will allow for tests to be staggered throughout the year, eliminating the “one test, one day” issue of a students not being at their best the day of the test.

The state also emphasizes to schools that testing should not halt the education process.

“We feel like the assessments should be part of the process, not something you have to stop to do,” Charlton said. “They’re important, but we shouldn’t be putting so much pressure to perform.”