ODE Increases Testing Standards for Public Schools

Emma Paul, Staff Writer

Although the Oberlin City Schools recently received an overall B grade on their annual evaluation from the Ohio Department of Education — the highest grade the school system has ever received — the school system received a D grade on “indicators met,” a section requiring 80 percent of students to pass each standardized test given at the end of the school year.

While the drop in grade does not necessarily signify a decline in the quality of schooling, it does reflect the increased expectations of the ODE, which, prior to the past year, required only 75 percent of students to pass the standardized tests.

According to John Schroth, superintendent of Oberlin City Schools, the increased threshold is a part of the Department’s long-term education plan.

“It’s a part of the ‘Race to the Top,’ which has been this whole thing since the report card went into place some 15 to 20 years ago,” Schroth said. “Every year, or every other year, [the ODE] would be steadily raising the cut score until it gets to 100 percent.”

Not all grades struggled to meet the new cut score. Fifth, seventh and eighth grades fell behind, but high school scores remained relatively unaffected.

“What the test tells us is that, although we have issues at the middle school, once they get to the high school they’re pretty well prepared and [are] passing those cut scores,” said Schroth.

This past year marked a transition from Ohio’s Department of Education standards to Common Core State Standards. The standardized tests given were a blend of both new and old materials.

“Last year was a tricky year also because it was an overlap year,” said Robin Diedrick, a fifth grade teacher at Prospect Elementary School. “We were supposed to be teaching Common Core Standards last year, but we were still taking state tests. … They were supposed to only test kids on the things that would overlap between what the state standards were and the Common Core Standards.”

In light of the new standards, the district is taking action, and there are new programs in place to help bolster the “indicators met” grade. A new math curriculum has been introduced, with George Viebranz as its first director. Viebranz, who has an extensive background in math and science, is in the process of analyzing the most recent test scores with support from the teachers.

According to Schroth, these new programs may present some risks.

“This year, we’re implementing the new math curriculum and doing that data analysis so we can find where our shortcomings are in our curriculum,” Schroth said. “Though, you run the risk with some of this stuff of getting so caught up with it you end up teaching to the test, and that’s one thing we don’t want to get bogged down in.”

The concern of “teaching to the test” is reflected in the changes Viebranz is implementing. Instead of more standardization, Viebranz stresses individual student attention by keeping close records of students who had issues with material in the past, so teachers are aware of who in their classroom might need extra assistance.

“[For] teachers who understand the connection between instruction and assessment, it’s simply keeping track of the progress your students make relative to the things they’ll be tested on, and providing the appropriate supports to students who struggle,” said Viebranz.

Viebranz described the changes in curriculum as primarily a shift in what is taught at which grade level, requiring teachers to reexamine their own curriculums.

“If we think of it in terms of having the responsibility to give students the opportunity to learn the things that they’ll be tested on, we have to get teachers to rethink this alignment, and a lot of that just involves communication,” said Viebranz.

Ultimately, both administration and teachers agree that the school district’s report card does not convey the full story of Oberlin’s schools.

According to Schroth, the report card fails to reflect many of the school system’s strengths.

“The state report card has some good information in it, but nowhere does it talk about world languages; nowhere does it talk about art or music,” Schroth said. “There’s nothing here about economics. There’s nothing here about health. There’s so much more to a student’s educational experience than math, science and reading.”