Board Minimizes Significance of PARCC Tests

The Oberlin Board of Education plans to enter a memorandum of understanding with teachers to minimize the weight placed on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test scores when evaluating teachers. This February marked the advent of PARCC testing in Ohio.

The assessments are designed to align with the Common Core standards and measure important skills in students like critical thinking. However, some Oberlin residents have raised concern about the weight put on these test scores and how it might impact both students’ futures and teacher evaluations. According to Oberlin Board of Education President Ken Stanley, up to 50 percent and no less than 39 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will come from their students’ scores on these examinations.

The memorandum would take advantage of HB 487, a law that offers a “safe harbor” for teachers, allowing school districts to delay using the PARCC assessments in “making decisions regarding the dismissal, retention, tenure or compensation of the district’s or school’s teachers.”

The memorandum would likely remain in place only as long as Oberlin schools can legally avoid using test scores in teacher evaluations, since the safe harbor is only in effect for the 2014–2015 school year. Under Ohio regulations, teachers will be rated “accomplished, skilled, developing or ineffective” based on classroom evaluations that are conducted by the school principal in the Oberlin School District and graded on a state rubric, as well as on their students’ scores on the PARCC assessments.

In their March 17 meeting, the Board had proposed a resolution titled “Let Teachers Teach,” which, like the MOU, declared support for teachers and aimed to minimize the use of PARCC scores in evaluating teachers.

“[The resolution] was meant as a starting point for discussion. … [We’re working with] our principals and teachers to get together and discuss ways to minimize the stress on the tests, to minimize the extent to which we alter our school day,” Stanley said.

Some residents criticized the proposed resolution for not being radical enough, considering that the Ottawa-Glandorf School Board in Putnam County, Ohio signed a resolution that called for “an immediate stop to all PARCC and AIR assessments,” and that the Elida School Board in Allen County also openly opposed PARCC testing.

A major reason these districts cited for their opposition is that these additional assessments are interrupting students’ learning. The tests will take 12 days of school for Prospect Elementary School students, Board member Albert Borroni said.

The test’s rollout has also gone less than smoothly, according to Borroni. “There are tons of rules about how the tests have to be implemented, and some are just bad,” Borroni stated, citing an example of how a student had answered a question correctly but did not know how to enter the answer in the online test, and the test monitor was forbidden to assist the student by PARCC regulation.

The state ultimately wants all PARCC tests to be taken online, but many rural Ohio schools do not have enough computers for all their students and cannot afford to purchase more. While the Oberlin School District does have access to Oberlin College resources, many similar districts are not so lucky.

Currently, according to George Viebranz, curriculum director for the Oberlin School District, 4th–graders will spend more than 12 hours in state testing this year. The number is similar for grades 3 through 8 and is higher for high-schoolers. There are two rounds of testing for every grade, one in February and one in April.

Additionally, Oberlin High School has an International Baccalaureate Program. Students taking IB tests are not exempt from the state exams, so they will spend even more time taking tests.

Deborah Roose, Oberlin professor and director of the Oberlin College Educational Alliance Network, said the legislature needs to consider when testing is and is not beneficial.

“We need to talk to our representatives about when testing is good and when it isn’t,” Roose said.

She went on to explain that the constant stream of new testing requirements is preventing teachers from teaching. While the MOU will provide teachers relief from evaluations based on PARCC tests this year, the long-term future likely will depend on political change at the state level.