Ohio Bill Would Give Local Districts Control Over Standardized Tests

Published August 13, 2015

Ohio school districts might enjoy increased local control if House Bill 212, the Local Authority Restoration Act (LARA), passes into law during the state’s current legislative session.

A key element of the bill is a provision that would allow districts to choose their own standardized tests.

The 2015–17 budget passed by the Ohio Legislature and signed by Gov. John Kasich (R) in June dropped the use of the Common Core-aligned test known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and replaced it with an equivalent test written by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). AIR has partnered with the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment tests.

LARA would allow districts to choose the Common Core replacement test created by AIR, which was adopted and funded by the budget, and would let districts pick their own normed test.

Restoring Local Control

The bill’s author, Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Carroll County), told School Reform News the return of local control is vital but difficult to achieve.

“That was really the point: to have local control and the part about the assessments being tied to the standards, where you fight a [small] battle with the feds on that one because they are trying to force you to take the assessments they are prescribing,” said Thompson.

“If you don’t have a prohibition in your own state code about that, then they can try to make you take the assessments that they prescribe,” Thompson said. “We’re going to be putting that prohibition into law so that districts can choose in the State of Ohio either a normed referenced Iowa exam or an assessment that would be tied to Massachusetts’ standards. We wanted to have standards that have in the past been proven effective elsewhere and were [created before] Common Core [was created.]”

Thompson says Kasich is wrong when he claims curricula is being created locally to adjust to Common Core.

“This increasing federalization and the increasing control of our state education departments by the federal government is eliminating any sense that our school board members have a role to play,” Thompson said. “And when our governor is out there saying, ‘Local people make their own curriculum,’ I certainly don’t see that in my district and I don’t think it’s the norm across the state, because they’re too busy with other assignments they have from the Gates Foundation and whatever think tank is getting paid to shove this down our throats.”

Districts Should Take Advantage of Opportunity to Obtain Local Control

Other provisions, which seek to increase local control found in LARA, include returning evaluation decisions by eliminating the data-collection-heavy statewide Kindergarten Entry Assessment. LARA also includes changes to the end-of-year exam structure, a move supports say will increase instruction time and reduce time spent on testing.  

While LARA has yet to become law, Greg Lawson, state house liaison and policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, says he thinks Ohio school districts will take advantage of the local control LARA offers.

“I think a decent chunk [of Ohio’s school districts] would, if given the authority to do so, absolutely take advantage,” Lawson said. “Now, I do think that it’s safe to say not all school districts will do that. I think … one of the interesting things about the debate we’re having here is [over] letting school boards and local governments have as much flexibility as possible to meet the needs at the local level.

“The bottom line is this: We should have local control,” said Lawson. “Schools should be able to choose if they want to go in that direction. This legislation clearly moves in the direction of being able to do that.”

Andrea Dillon ([email protected]) writes from Holly Springs, North Carolina.

Image by woodleywonderworks.