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Fewer tests for Ohio students?

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Newly proposed legislation would reduce state standardized testing in schools to the federal minimum, removing four high school end-of-course exams.

Introduced by Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Erica Crawley, D-Columbus, House Bill 239 would drop the tests for geometry, English language arts, American history and American government, which would leave 17 federally mandated tests.

Ohio is among 13 states that require testing to graduate high school. Students in the state must pass end-of-course testing.

Manning said that with extra testing, schools and the state are emphasizing testing more than learning and that the tests can create more stress for students, especially since they are required to start testing in third grade.

Mandy Jablonski, a member of the Badass Teachers Association and mother of an Elyria High School student, said she was “very excited” about the bill.

“We’ve been fighting to get testing at a federal minimum for about a year now,” she said.

Her husband, Matt Jablonski, is an American history teacher at Elyria High School and has taught for about 20 years. He said the legislation was a long time coming.

“As a teacher, the testing narrows the curriculum terribly,” he said. “If you teach in a district where students struggle with tests, which typically have a low economic standing, we have to put quite a bit of focus on getting students to pass.”

Matt Jablonski said that State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria often will say that every student is different, which he said is true but that the system doesn’t reflect it.

“It becomes terribly problematic,” he said. “When we do that, you can’t embrace differences in a system that is driven by standardization. HB 239 is legitimately going to solve that.”

The bill, called the Testing Reduction Act, also would require local school districts to form a work group that would study district-required testing and make recommendations for reducing testing to the local school board.

That group would be made up of the superintendent, testing administrator, three principals, three classroom teachers and three parents of enrolled students. All of those threes would represent elementary, middle school and high school. The group would be required to make a report no later than six months after it’s formed.

“We want them to have that conversation,” Manning said. “They can sit there and talk about testing at the local level. … We need to cut back on testing and teach so students love learning. It gives local people a voice. We can explain why some tests are important.”

Mandy Jablonski said this was the first time she had seen a bill that required three parents to be a part of the group, which she said would bring better inclusion.

The Board of Education would be allowed to pass a resolution to exceed testing limits on an annual basis and report it to the Ohio Department of Education.

In 2012, legislators passed Senate Bill 165, which mandated the American history and American government tests, which HB 239 would now remove. Manning said those are the two she would have issues with other legislators with passing.

“Just because we aren’t testing something doesn’t mean we aren’t teaching it,” she said.

Matt Jablonski said that the resistance to removing American history and American government from testing is rooted in the idea that teachers will stop instructing about historical documents, which he said is untrue.

“I can’t really even speculate on how it would be different,” he said. “It would be more positive. Academically, it would allow students to pursue their interests, which would help drive their achievements and open doors to potential careers they might want to pursue.”

Without teachers needing to prepare students for those extra tests, Manning said teachers would have more room to be creative with teaching and possibly even bring in speakers to talk about the topics.

The bill also would allow students to take the ACT or SAT voluntarily. Under current law, those tests are required by the state. Currently, 24 states plus Washington. D.C., require students to take the testing.

“It’s great that the state pays for it, but there are a lot of kids out there who won’t go to college,” Manning said. “That’s a decision I think parents and kids should make together. If it’s not in your cards, why are we making you take it? We have to look at reasons for taking these tests.”

The Ohio Department of Education would be required to issue a report annually on the time spent on testing in Ohio’s schools. Local schools are allowed to create their own testing apart from the state’s required tests.

Seventeen Republicans and Democrats co-sponsored the bill.

Contact Laina Yost at 329-7121 or lyost@chroniclet.com.
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