Ohio May Free Some STEM Schools to Create Their Own Tests

Published April 27, 2015

Ohio may soon give certain school districts the option of creating their own exams. As criticism of Common Core continues, the Ohio Department of Education is considering implementing what it calls the Innovative Learning Pilot. This pilot program would permit 15 science, technology, engineering, and math-focused school districts to develop their own tests.

Outlining the initiative, an April 6 press release from the Ohio Department of Education stated, “The Ohio Department of Education will seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that would allow these schools to use locally selected or developed innovative assessments in place of state tests. Any alternative tests the schools administer would still have to meet state guidelines for rigor and other expectations. The earliest that department officials expect the schools to begin piloting the alternative tests would be the 2016-17 school year.”

Schools would be allowed to use their own tests in educators’ and students’ performance assessments, the release stated: “The districts and schools also may use these innovative assessment systems to inform teacher and principal evaluations, as well as state-issued school and district report cards. Ohio currently considers state test scores in these accountability systems.”

Increases Local Control

Greg Lawson, a policy analyst with Ohio’s Buckeye Institute, says he is pleased the state is taking a step to restore local control of education.

“Given the many concerns parents have regarding Common Core and the associated PARCC assessments, it only makes sense to offer alternative options,” Lawson said. “A one-size-fits-all response to education has never made sense. The main challenge will be finding a way to make meaningful comparisons between districts that keep PARCC and those that eventually do not.”

Lawson says the pilot program also addresses the current excessive testing regimens.

“While it is important to keep track of the progress students are making, the number of hours spent in testing has taken on too much of a life of its own,” Lawson said. “Alternatives that can reduce some of this burden make sense.”

Seen as First Step

Doran Moreland of the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice says the pilot program is a step in the right direction. Moreland says one-size-fits-all testing standards monopolize valuable instruction time tend to be problematic for students and teachers.  

“The Friedman Foundation is always supportive of efforts to reduce regulations on schools,” Moreland said. “Currently, students are tested too frequently, and we believe true accountability exists with families who decide to join or leave a school on their own accord. Ideally, schools should be able to tailor lesson plans and testing to meet the unique needs of their students. This proposed legislation seems to be a positive step in this direction.”

Heidi Huber, founder of Ohioans Against Common Core, says this pilot program is an extension of Common Core and “just the execution of another element of the Race to the Top grant.

“This falls under a program coordinated by the CCSSO [Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the two copyright holders to the Common Core Standards], called the Innovation Lab Network [ILN],” Huber said. “Local districts working directly with the U.S. Dept. of Education and seeking their approval is an affront to local- and state-level control of education and a huge blow to local autonomy and accountability.”

Chris Neal ([email protected]) writes from New York, New York.

Image by Josh Davis.

Learn More:

Catherine Candisky, “Ohio may allow some school districts to develop their own tests,” The Columbus Dispatch, April 7, 2015: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/04/06/alternative-testing.html

Julie Carr Smyth, “Ohio to seek federal approval to pilot alternative testing; Portage stem school would get clearance,” www.ohio.com, April 7, 2015: http://www.ohio.com/news/break-news/ohio-to-seek-federal-approval-to-pilot-alternative-testing-portage-stem-school-would-get-clearance-1.581309 “Pilot Program Lets Districts Craft

Own Standardized Tests,” wosu.org, April 7, 2015: http://www.ohio.com/news/break-news/ohio-to-seek-federal-approval-to-pilot-alternative-testing-portage-stem-school-would-get-clearance-1.581309 

“Ohio Prepares to Study Alternatives to State Tests,” Ohio Department of Education: http://education.ohio.gov/Media/Media-Releases/Ohio-Prepares-to-Study-Alternatives-to-State-Tests#.VSx6zPnF-Ul