Testing in Ohio schools: At what cost?


Melissa Martin - Contributing Columnist



Butterflies in stomach. Heart pounding. Fear of failing. Do you remember how you reacted to taking tests? Fast-forward to state standardized testing.

“Teachers, school administrators and other critics argue that students spend so much time taking standardized tests that it distracts from student learning and takes the joy out of teaching,” according to a 2017 article in The Columbus Dispatch Newspaper.

Around 1000 members of the Ohio Education Association (OEA) met in January of 2019 to discuss concerns. The Feb/March 2019 Ohio Schools Magazine issue contained an interesting article titled “Tests! The Power and Potential of Our Stories to Stop the Test Insanity.”

I must agree with educators, parents, and others that have a bone to pick with the overuse of standardized testing. Why? Because of what kids are revealing in counseling sessions. Because kids are experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, interrupted sleep, and stomach upset based upon comparison, fear of disappointing adults with low scores, and worries about passing into the next grade level. That’s why. Hearing elementary students proclaim “I’m so stupid” before, during, and after testing is disheartening.

The State of Ohio requires students in grades 3 through 8 to take standardized tests each year in language arts and mathematics. Students in grades 5 and 8 also take state tests in science. At the high school level, students are required to take standardized state assessments in 9th and 10th grade language arts, algebra, geometry, biology, U.S. history, and U.S. government. These tests are referred to as AIR assessments. AIR stands for the American Institutes of Research; the agency that develops and deliveries the tests.

Visit the Ohio Dept. of Education website to view statistical summaries by school year of student performance on the Ohio Achievement Assessments and the Ohio Graduation Tests and for item analysis reports for Ohio public schools.

OEA President Scott DiMauro wants to work on reducing the amount of standardized testing in Ohio schools. “He believes too much testing takes away class time and prevents educators from teaching their students,” according to an August 2019 article at Hometown Stations.

The Ohio League of Women Voters opposes Ohio’s use of high-stakes school testing to measure school, teacher or student quality, as opposed to simple mastery of subjects, according to a 2019 article in The Plain Dealer.

The Ohio House passed House Bill 154 to repel House Bill 70-legislation to take decision-making power away from Ohio school districts with low performance on the state report card. Under current Ohio law, schools and districts are graded on a report card that hands out a letter grade of A to F from aggregated scores on standardized tests. I imagine that administrators and teachers may also be experiencing anxiety and fear of failing.

In 2019, House Bill 239, the Testing Reduction Act was introduced in Ohio. House Bill 239 would reduce the state-mandated standardized tests to the federal minimums by eliminating four high school end-of-course exams (Geometry, English Language Arts I, American History, American Government).

“Test anxiety is a bigger problem than many parents and teachers realize. A staggering 16-20% of students have high test anxiety, making this the most frequent academic impairment in our schools today. Another 18% are troubled by moderately-high test anxiety. These students actually draw a “blank” or “freeze-up” during tests. Students with high anxiety perform around 12 percentile points below their low anxiety peers; regardless of how much effort and time they put into studying,” according to a 2015 article in Psychology Today.

Yes, tests are a necessary part of life — from driving tests to licensure tests. And testing has a place in our educational systems, however the pendulum needs to be stabilized in the middle.

So, Ohio schools are experiencing controversy over state standardized tests. And students, teachers, administrators, and parents are experiencing anxiety. Well, guess what? The brain does not learn well when overanxious. Should the Ohio Department of Education mandate that students receive counseling and accommodations for test anxiety caused from the overuse of high-stakes standardized testing?

“To those who say that we need weights and measures in order to enforce accountability in education, my response is, yes, of course we do, but only under three conditions that are not being met today. We need to make sure (1) that we measure things worth measuring in the context of authentic education, where rote learning counts for little; (2) that we know how to measure what we set out to measure; and (3) that we attach no more importance to measurable things than we attach to things equally or more important that elude our instruments.” — Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach

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Melissa Martin

Contributing Columnist

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Wheelersburg in Southern Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Wheelersburg in Southern Ohio.