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Is new Ohio report card data really worthless?

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 23, 2015
and last updated 2016-02-25 21:38:11-05

CINCINNATI — It's time to separate the useful from the useless in Ohio's school report card that's based on a test that has already been scrapped.

The Ohio Department of Education on Thursday released a second round of information aimed at indicating how districts performed last school year.

The state used the much-hated, high-stakes PARCC exams in the 2014-15 school year to test children in grades 3-8 and some high school students in math and English language arts.

Students and teachers devoted weeks and even months to studying and taking the tests during both semesters, and they complained loudly to lawmakers. They listened, and state officials scrapped the PARCC tests after just one year.

Legislators passed a reform bill that limits future testing to one second-semester testing window and requires tests results be released by June 30. The Ohio Department of Education replaced the PARCC tests with ones given by AIR.

Still, those PARCC test results were released in January and February, challenging parents and educators to make some use of them.

WCPO reached out to local and state education leaders to get their take on how much weight the PARCC test results should be given.

Useless: Measuring Your Child's Performance

Detractors of the test complained results of the spring 2015 tests weren't scheduled to come out until this fall, giving teachers no chance to adjust their approach to teaching students who have already moved into the next grade.

Well, the tumult around the test pushed releasing the results back to January 2016, making results even less relevant to how well a student is doing in a new school year that's more than half over.

"My first observation is that the test results are not going to inform instruction for students who took them," said Tom Ash, government relations director at the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

The tardiness of the release is problematic, Tracey Carson, Mason City Schools spokeswoman said: "Getting the data so late makes it significantly less relevant for our learners."

Finally, because the tests are different than any that students took before and won't be repeated, there's no real way to measure how much a student has progressed or fallen behind compared to other school years.

Useless: Comparing Scores to the Past

The PARCC tests were the first ones in Ohio specifically designed to measure how well students have learned the new education standards, which are based on Common Core standards.

"As we know, the PARCC tests were advertised to be more rigorous, and they did seem to be," Oak Hills Schools Superintendent Todd Yohey said. "But with PARCC only being a one-year test, it's not going to serve as much of a benchmark."

Useful: Measuring the Gaps

No Child Left Behind, the landmark educational reform passed in 2002, mandated English and math testing as a means to hold schools, districts and states accountable when whole groups of students were falling behind. That's why Ohio's tests break down how white, African-American, Hispanic, learning disabled and English-language learners each perform compared to average.

The state and the nation continue to struggle to boost the achievement of most minority students as well as English-language learners and disabled students.

"What we have been telling our members is to use the results for the original purpose, not to compare schools or districts," Ash said. "Analyze the achievement gaps between various sub groups and see where the gaps have widened or narrowed a bit. We think that's where the value is in the data coming back."

Up for Debate: Comparing Schools and Districts

Ash thinks the one-time nature of the tests limit their relevance to how schools and districts compare to each other, but Milford Superintendent Robert Farrell still sees some value in the comparison.

"You certainly can compare how students performed on those tests compared to the state," he said. "There's not really a national norm, and they're never going to take these tests again, and they didn’t take them before. But it does give us some indication (of) how well they have learned the standards."

Yohey agreed.

"We'll certainly do that comparison analysis," Yohey said. "But, again, because we're going to get the results so late, it's not going to give us much time to do anything about them this school year."

Useful: Online Practice

Many students had little or no experience taking tests online before the all-online PARCC tests.

"I do have hope that the PARCC tests did provide our students and teachers with an experience of taking an online, rigorous assessment," Yohey said. "We're trying to incorporate more online testing and assessment."

Up for Debate: Counting the Absent

Throughout southwest Ohio and the state, a small but statistically important number of students and their families opted out of taking the tests. In response, lawmakers barred schools from using the absences to fail a class or hold a child back from moving onto the next grade.

But schools have not been afforded the same protection, so every opt-out is counted as a failing test.

That's a big problem for districts such as Mason, which had 5 percent of students opt out.

"This drop will likely mean that Mason no longer remains in the state’s top achievers on the State Report Card since many of Mason’s high-performing peers did not have a similar level of opt-out requests," according to a district press release.

Mason is lobbying Ohio officials to not count the opt-out students at all.

"There is still time, and we very much hope they will see the need to accurately report the results," Carson said.

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