Saturday, November 24th, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
New graduation testing on tap
State requirement
  The state is raising the bar on its high school graduation tests.
Officials with the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Board of Regents are scrapping the current Ohio Graduation Tests for a new college/job readiness exam - similar to the ACT - that could be available as early as the 2013-2014 school year.
The OGT is mandated by the state and given annually to sophomores to measure skill levels and graduation preparedness. Students must pass the five-part test to graduate, and those who fail can retake the test multiple times before graduation. The test is solely aligned with Ohio academic content standards.
The proposed, nationally standardized test would include 10 end-of-course/year exams covering the core subjects of English I, II and III, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, biology, physical science, American history and American government. The tests would be free to all schools.
Brenda Boeke, superintendent of Minster Local Schools, said the new course exams are part of the educational reform taking place in Ohio and across the nation.
"The OGT was designed in the 1980s to measure whether students had at least an eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade ability in basic subjects in order to graduate," she said. "Times have changed ... our expectations for student learning have not kept pace."
Boeke said the new assessments will be aligned to the new Common Core Curriculum. Implementing it and using the results of the end-of-course exams to guide instruction will allow schools to better prepare students to be college- or career-ready. 
State officials believe the new tests likely won't be mandated for use until the 2014-2015 school year, depending on the time needed to create the tests and secure the necessary funding.
It's a huge undertaking, said Michael Sawyers, ODE's acting superintendent of public instruction.
"This is a major step forward in our reform efforts to ensure all Ohio students have the knowledge and skills necessary to leave school remediation-free and ready for their post-secondary experience in higher education or workforce training," he said.
One of the state's goals is to advance degree completion, he added. Performance on the required tests is expected to be part of the student's course grade and a factor in Ohio's revised accountability system. A transition plan is being finalized.
Parkway Local Schools Superintendent Greg Puthoff said the changes will be an adjustment for everyone.
"Our parents and community members understand the OGT results were a way to evaluate our high school education program. When we switch to 10 separate tests, a national exam and a workforce assessment, it will take time to explain the new assessments and how (they) will affect our students," he said.
Teachers from Celina City Schools participated in an in-service Wednesday to create a curriculum that would properly prepare all students for the new tests.
"This year we're teaching one set of standards, and next year we'll have to teach to another set of standards," Celina superintendent Jesse Steiner said. "How do we teach the kids to prepare for that? That's what the teachers are doing today."
The school hired consulting firm Searle Enterprises of Perrysburg to help develop the new curriculum. Firm president Margaret Searle said she was training the teachers for a multitude of new standards.
"We're taking the new common core standards and changing them into a workable document - like a calendar - so the teachers know how to incorporate the new standards throughout the year," she said. "I'm trying to give teachers an idea of that new test and how they can prep their kids for it."
The district plans to begin implementing the new curriculum next year.
"They're doing a fantastic job; this group has been so diligent," Searle said of the Celina teachers. "They're really taking this seriously and are truly concerned that their kids are doing their best. Not all states and districts are like that."
Marion Local Schools Superintendent Mike Pohlman said teachers in his district also are working hard to prepare for the new tests that "will hold teachers and students accountable for receiving a year's worth of growth," he said.
Pohlman noted the pressure of the state tests can make it difficult for teachers to present new ideas to their students.
"This makes a teacher's job very difficult because they feel tempted to distribute so much information to prepare students but in the back of their mind they want to try new things to prepare them for careers or college skills that they need," he said.
Area students historically perform well on the OGT. Overall results of the test given in March show Mercer County students scored 70.6 percent (Celina) to 92.2 percent (Marion Local) in the "proficient or above" category.
Debe Terhar, president of the state board of education, said the OGT is no longer adequate.
"We cannot expect our students to be post-secondary ready for college or careers if we do not increase our minimal standards to allow our students to successfully compete," she said. "The higher expectations and next generation of assessments coming to Ohio and many other states is long overdue for our students."
- Daily Standard reporter Amy Kronenberger contributed to this story.
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