By Denise Dick
Tenth-graders across the state spent much of last week huddled over test booklets, pencils in hand, but in 2014-15 they’ll sit in front of computers instead.
Students must pass the Ohio Graduation Test to graduate from high school, and their scores are used by the Ohio Department of Education to calculate school and school district report-card data.
Significant changes are on the way next school year for both the OGT and the Ohio Achievement Assessment taken by third- through eighth-graders.
As part of the state’s involvement with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests will be aimed more at college and career readiness.
Students will take those tests using a computer rather than the traditional pencil and paper exams.
A performance-based assessment will replace the OAA, and end-of-year and end-of-course assessments will replace the OGT.
When students finish a course, for example, they’ll take an assessment. One advantage of the change is to make scores comparable across the member states.
“There’s going to be a learning curve for some,” said Linda Ross, director of instruction at Boardman schools. “It will be more reflective of students because technology is so much a part of their lives.”
Boardman teachers are being trained for the upcoming changes with professional development sessions both by grade and subject area.
The PARCC assessments are more rigorous and include content from the Common Core Standards. Common Core is an initiative adopted by most states that outlines the knowledge and skills children should learn in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Ross said Common Core Standards already are being included in instruction and next year, the district will conduct waiver days to complete curriculum mapping, ensuring that instruction aligns with the standards. Curriculum mapping sets up when during the school year which concepts are to be taught.
Rather than just filling in questions on a test form, some portions of the new assessments will involve students showing what they know.
“Rather than being asked to recall something, they’ll be asked to analyze a situation,” Ross said.
Boardman doesn’t have the technology yet that it will need to allow all students to take their tests on computer, but Ross said it has a year and a half to get everything set up.
The new tests will be administered over a longer time period — 20 days rather than two weeks.
Barbara Williams Robey, director of teaching and learning at the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, said the new assessments and new curriculum will take a whole new mindset.
“Testing is not going to be an event like it is now,” she said. “It’s going to be divided into sections. Some of it will be performance based, some traditional. We have to get a different mindset.”
But the technology required for the tests isn’t something that districts should just be acquiring for the tests. They should be acquiring it for instruction purposes and using it for the tests.
Exactly what the tests will look like is still being determined, Williams Robey said.
Doug Hiscox, deputy superintendent for academic affairs at Youngstown City Schools, believes the technology required for the new-era testing is going to be difficult for any district in the state.
“We’ve done some experiments with students taking some of our end of unit tests online to see what problems we might run into,” he said. “We know we have the capacity to do a whole grade level at a time. But we don’t know about all testing online across the district in multiple grades and subject areas. It’s a hardware problem more than anything else.”
Districts can’t rely on wireless connections for the tests, Hiscox said, because if there’s a problem with the connection, all of the student’s work would be lost.
“The state did a survey of all the districts of what technology they have and how that compares to what’s needed,” he said. “We’re still waiting to see what the state does with that information to see if we’re all in the same predicament.”
Districts in Mahoning County are meeting each week about the upcoming changes.
“Our biggest concern is if we have to invest in hardware, where is the money coming from and how fast can we get it up and running,” Hiscox said.