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Families weigh pros, cons of school testing

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Since national and state education leaders began revising standardized testing requirements that will more than double the hours and days students will spend testing from last year to this year, parents have been asking questions. How will the increase in testing affect my child? How will preparing for more tests affect teachers’ ability to generate curiosity for their students? If I opt out of testing for my child, how will the decision affect both teacher’s evaluations and the district’s own State Report Card and future reputation?

On Monday, Sept. 22, about 35 parents and school administrators attended a forum sponsored by the Yellow Springs Parent-Teacher Organization to discuss the new standards and options for students and their families.

For parent Paloma Dallas, the event confirmed her concern that opting her daughter out of the particularly heavy third-grade testing schedule could have negative effects on her teacher and the school. If her daughter doesn’t take the state tests, the school gets a zero for that student on its state report card, and her teacher’s evaluation, 50 percent of which is based on student test performance, gets docked.

And since Dallas doesn’t believe that her child is particularly sensitive or anxious about tests, she wonders if it’s better to just “hold our noses” and take the tests this year in hopes that the district as a whole will get a waiver from all standardized testing the following year.

“As a parent, I like the idea of being able to opt out next year,” she said, adding that perhaps the best thing to do in the intervening time is bear up. “Don’t stress the kids out if they’re not stressed about it,” she said about the increased testing.

Other parents wondered if, should a super majority of families make a unified decision to opt out of tests, the negative effects on the district and its teachers could be publicly explained. They also wondered how much more of an effect some students opting out this year could have on the district if it receives an official testing waiver the following year, in which every student would get a zero on the state report card — a guaranteed failing grade for the district.

As Ohio legislators continue to pass laws to regulate the changing education standards for both students and teachers, Yellow Springs school administrators admitted that the answers to some of the questions are still unclear. According to Superintendent Mario Basora, here’s what is known:

• Testing for all students, but especially those in grades 3–12, will increase from approximately five hours over two to five days last year to approximately 13 to 19 hours over nine to 13 days this year.

• The tests include, in chronological order from September through May, a new kindergarten assessment, third-grade reading guarantee exams, the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) for those who failed the previous year, five days of Next Gen “performance-based” assessments in English and math, an alternative assessment for students with cognitive disabilities, the regular OGT, Next Gen assessments in science and social studies, Next Gen end-of-course exams in English and math for grades three through nine, Next Gen end-of-course exams in science and social studies for grades four through nine, advanced placement exams and STAR assessments. (The last two the district favors maintaining.)

• Individual students who choose to opt out of testing this year could face a host of consequences, including being held back in third grade (at least on the official record) and not graduating as a high school senior without the OGT. State-mandated teacher and principal evaluations would be negatively affected by aggregate student test scores — though the district could protect teachers’ jobs by agreement with the union to renew all contracts.

• The district is applying for a waiver from all federal and state standardized tests for up to five years, beginning in fall of 2015. Yellow Springs is one of the 15 Innovative Learning Network districts eligible for the 10 available waivers (which all STEM schools automatically receive). The district plans to include alternative student and teacher assessment proposals in its application, such as CWRA+ (performance-based assessments) and student portfolios.

• The first tests of the year start in about two weeks.

Though the local district is not able to offer families official refuge from standardized tests this year, neither the schools nor the state has the authority to force students and their families to take the tests, Basora said.

“It’s a risk for us to allow opt-out to happen,” Basora said at Monday’s meeting. “But I’m not going to stand in the way of a parent and what they know is best for their child … and we’re not going to make a student sit in a room [during a test] — we’ll have alternative activities for them.”

This year Mills Lawn School has received requests from five families who want to opt out of testing for their children, MLS Principal Matt Housh said at the meeting. Yellow Springs High School/McKinney Principal Tim Krier said the high school has not received any requests. However, according to parent Amy Scott, some families have been waiting for this week’s forum before making a decision.

Regardless of what families decide for their own students this year, Basora encouraged parents to join what he sees as a populist issue at the state and national levels. Parents have a much stronger influence on legislators than those who practice in the field, he said. Families and educators in other states are already demanding a reassessment from policy makers.

According to the Huffington Post, in April the entire faculty of P.S. 167 in Queens opposed New York’s new standardized testing mandates because of the negative impact it is having on their students’ stress levels and ability to develop intellectual curiosity. And last month the Washington Post reported that Florida’s Lee County School Board had voted to drop all state-mandated tests as an act of “civil disobedience.”

Yellow Springs district leaders said during the forum that they wanted to support a family’s right to choose. But Basora also wants villagers to pressure the state to do the same.

“If you do opt out this year, please make a commitment to me to contact your legislators — this is a bipartisan issue — it’s important to reach out to them for their advocacy.”

Community members can call and write to State Superintendent of Instruction Dick Ross, State Representative Rick Perales, State Senators Chris Widener and Peggy Lehner, as well as former State Superintendent Susan Zelman. Go to for contact information for these representatives.

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