Eye on Education



Ohio Standardized Testing 101


Ohio students must be tested. It’s the law.

Standardized tests have become a key tool for measuring the performance of students, schools and teachers. They are the foundation for state grades for schools and for tools educators and policy measures use to evaluate school performance.

At the same time, some people say the way state standardized testing is used presents an inaccurate picture of student performance and encourages schools to focus on teaching students to perform well on tests rather than the skills to perform well in life.

What tests do schools have to give students?

There are a bunch of different state tests public schools must administer. There’s a test for kindergarten readiness and one for students who are learning English, and, for some schools, national and international assessments.

But when people in Ohio talk about state tests, they’re usually talking about two big ones: the Ohio Achievement Assessments and the Ohio Graduation Tests.

What grades and subjects do the Ohio Achievement Assessments and the Ohio Graduation Tests cover?

The Ohio Achievement Assessments are the primary tool for measuring student performance in key subjects in elementary and middle school. They are given in the following grades and subjects:

  • Third grade: English language arts and math
  • Fourth grade: English language arts and math
  • Fifth grade: English language, arts math, science, and social studies
  • Sixth grade: English language arts and math
  • Seventh grade: English language arts and math
  • Eighth grade: English language arts, math, science, and social studies

The Ohio Graduation Tests are given to high schoolers, who generally must pass in order to graduate. The tests cover what a 10th grader is expected to know in these five subjects:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social studies.

When are those tests given?

The Ohio Achievement Assessment in third grade reading is given in the fall and spring. (If a student scores proficient or above in the fall, they do not take the reading test again in the spring).

All of the other Ohio Achievement Assessments are given once a year, in the spring.

The Ohio Graduation Tests are given to students for the first time in the spring of their 10th-grade year. Students can retake any Ohio Graduation Tests they don’t pass the first time during their 11th- and 12th-grade years. The Ohio Graduation Tests are given in the fall and spring and (in some districts) the summer, too.

Why are those tests given?

The main federal legislation governing education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires states to test students annually. The requirement started in 1994, but was strengthened in 2001 with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2012, Ohio received permission from the federal Department of Education to not comply with certain parts of the No Child Left Behind law. That waiver, as it is called, mostly allows Ohio freedom from meeting the federal goal of having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. It doesn’t significantly change the standardized tests students must take.

How are the test results used?

For students:

  • Teachers and families can use test results to identify subject areas in which students struggle. Teachers and administrators also look at test results as one factor in making decisions about promoting students to the next grade.
  • As mentioned earlier, there’s that Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
  • In general, students must pass all five Ohio Graduation Tests in order to earn a high-school diploma.

For teachers:

  • The results of the Ohio Achievement Assessments are used to compute  a statistical measure called “value-added.” Value-added measures how much students progress academically during a given year compared to how much they were expected to progress, regardless of their academic level at the start of the year.
  • Starting in 2013-14, teachers in all Ohio public school districts (and some charter schools) for which value-added results are available will be evaluated in part on them. This means that looking at how much progress each teacher’s students made in a given year will be one part of how each teacher is judged.
  • Increasingly, school districts are tying decisions about teacher layoffs, terminations and recalls to their evaluations.

For schools:

  • Public schools whose students perform poorly on state tests year after year are subject to a range of consequences.
  • Low-performing traditional public schools have to change how they operate. That could mean replacing staff or using a new curriculum. They may also be eligible for extra funding to support school “turnaround” efforts.
  • Charter schools with poor state ratings for multiple years must shut down. State ratings are based largely on state test performance.

What is the Third Grade Reading Guarantee?

In general, third graders must score at or above a certain level on the third-grade Ohio Achievement Assessment reading test in order to advance to fourth grade.

For the 2012-13 school year, students who don’t score high enough can still advance to fourth grade if their principal and reading teacher agree that they are prepared academically or if the school gives them extra help in reading in grade four.

Starting in the 2013-14 school year, students who don’t score high enough must be held back unless they are still learning English, can demonstrate “reading competency” on another state-approved tests, have a special-education plan that says they can’t be held back or meet other requirements.

What about students with learning, behavioral or cognitive disabilities or students who don’t speak or read English?

They take the state standardized tests, too.

Some students with disabilities or who are not proficient in English may get test accommodations.  They may get extra time to take the test, be given a dictionary or have someone read the directions and questions to them. Students with significant cognitive disabilities may take a different version of the state tests.

How are these tests changing?

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio schools will be expected to teach the Common Core. That’s a national set of expectations about what students should know in math and English. Those new expectations come with new tests.

Ohio is working with 23 other states to develop the tests students will take under the Common Core. The states are doing that through a group called PARCC.

All of the tests will be online, though a paper version of the tests will probably be available for schools who are not yet “technology-ready” initially. There’ll be four of them each year: an initial test to see where students are at the start of the year, a midpoint test, and two tests given later in the year to see how much students have learned. Ohio students could have to take all four, or just the last two: The Ohio Department of Education hasn’t said just yet.

And there are still open questions about what kinds of technology schools will need to give the tests, what exactly the tests will look like and what the scores required to “pass” will be.

Are these state standardized tests bad for students and schools?

Some people think so.

They say standardized tests present a limited view of student performance.

  • Some students may know the subject, but get nervous (or be sick or unhappy or distracted) on test day and perform poorly.
  • The tests judge only whether students have a basic knowledge of a subject matter. The tests don’t encourage schools to teach students higher-level knowledge or skills or give students a way to demonstrate higher-level knowledge or skills.

They say it’s a bad idea to evaluate students, teachers and schools — and make important decisions about them — based largely on standardized test performance.

They also say that the emphasis placed on standardized tests leads schools and teachers decide to “teach to the test,” narrowing what students are taught.

Does my child have to take state tests?

Basically, no. But if he or she wants to graduate from high school, yes.

State law requires schools to administer the these tests, but there’s no state law that requires parents to have their students take them.  However, students generally must pass the Ohio Graduation Tests in order to graduate from high school.

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