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Yellow Springs High School students to try alternative tests

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Yellow Springs High School students are scheduled to try out the first of a bevy of alternative standardized tests that the school district is considering for next year, when it applies for an exemption to all federal and state standardized tests. According to YSHS Principal Tim Krier at the Oct. 9 school board meeting, the district’s aim is to find alternative assessments that measure more of the critical thinking skills that current assessments miss, as well as to reduce the overall amount of standardized testing that government regulators have foisted onto students at almost every grade level this year.

The local high school was invited to participate in the pilot assessment designed by the Council for Aid to Education to gauge students’ ability in scientific and qualitative reasoning, critical reading and evaluation, and critiquing an argument using provided data. The assessment includes scenarios that direct students to use a collection of charts, graphs and reports provided to prove, disprove and argue the decisions they are asked to make.

The ninth-grade students are scheduled to take the 90-minute web-based College and Work Readiness Assessment (CRWA+) on Thursday, Oct. 30. According to Superintendent Mario Basora, this kind of assessment gets closer to measuring the critical thinking skills that students most need to succeed, and that Yellow Springs schools aim to hone through project-based learning. The district hopes to find a few alternative assessments to propose to the state in its testing waiver application next year. The waiver is available to STEM schools and 12 of the 15 Ohio Innovative Learning Network districts, including Yellow Springs. The waiver could allow local students to avoid next year the state testing increase from 2.5 days to 10 days that was mandated this year.

Though the district is still required to administer its standardized tests for the current year, so far this year two Mills Lawn families, including four individual students, have chosen to opt out of standardized testing on their own, according to MLS Principal Matt Housh. No one at the middle or high schools has requested such exception.

Outside the local district this fall Basora has continued to meet with legislators to push back against the squall of testing requirements the state has pushed on Ohio’s public school students. Last week he joined 10 local parents and Mills Lawn Teacher Linnea Denman who traveled to an Ohio House hearing in Columbus to speak before Representative Rick Perales and House policy advisor Colleen O’Grady about the perils of over-testing.

If parents don’t like the current testing mandates, the most effective thing they can do is contact the representatives themselves, Basora said, adding that legislators listen to voters more than public servants.

One proposal Basora presented to State Representative Peggy Lehner last week came from board member Sean Creighton’s suggestion to establish an accreditation process that evaluates public schools on the strength of their goals, strategic plan,  and test scores, and then allows the top scorers to create or choose their own assessments, the middle scorers to complete only some state-required tests, and the bottom scorers to remain completely subject to state standards.

Board members questioned whether they could help in the bid for reduced testing by advocating outside of Yellow Springs as well.

“Mario has spent a lot of time making connections and meeting — should the board be involved too?” board member Evan Scott said.

According to Basora, while school officials in other districts in the region are also combatting the increase in testing, parents are the most powerful agent for their children, and they should reach out to legislators now before the end of the year, when several relevant bills will likely be considered.

“Parents need to speak up — legislators will listen ultimately to community members and parents,” he said.

In other school board business:

• At their meeting Thursday, Oct. 9, the Yellow Springs school board approved the district’s five-year forecast showing balanced budgets through 2018, when expenses are once again forecasted to surpass the district’s revenues. The forecast is almost identical to the document the board approved in May, showing a total 2014 budget of $7.4 million and a cash balance that is expected to grow to about $3.3 million by 2017, before the district may need to start dipping into it.

The board discussed the possible future need to fill two new positions: a student internship coordinator and a development officer to continue the private school fundraising campaign that began last spring. Board member Steve Conn also recommended the district complete a property tax study in advance of any future levy campaign, noting that “an astonishing percentage of the village is tax exempt.”

• Yellow Springs High School senior David Butcher requested the district’s support in creating the foundation for an internship program for the high school. Butcher completed several internships in Columbus this past summer and wanted to help institute similar opportunities for other students in Yellow Springs for his senior project.

Butcher intends to use as models the internship programs at Yellow Springs’ mentor schools, High Tech High School and the Dayton STEM School. He hopes to connect with businesses and individuals in the community within a variety of disciplines and assess opportunities for collaboration, he told the board. The program could be similar to the community service program that all students are required to complete in order to -graduate.

Butcher said he thinks the program will help students gauge their interest in particular fields, and he hopes it will help YSHS students get ahead and stand out when applying to college and post-secondary jobs.

Board members responded positively to the ideas.

• Butcher also proposed that the board make room for an ex-officio student representative to the school board. The student could be the president of the Student Council or another representative, who would attend meetings regularly and act as a liaison between the student body and the policy makers.

Butcher agreed to gather initial information on best practices and the board’s official obligations regarding student representatives.

• The schools received $1,000 from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation to continue the support of the Positive Choices Program run by Mr. Neil.

Contact: lheaton@ysnews.com

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